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Leader Profile:

Frank Dirks

Mr. John (Frank) Dirks III worked as a community organizer in Michigan advocating for youth engagement, and leading the coalition of individuals and interest groups committed to institutionalizing support for volunteering. Mr. Dirks helped set up the Michigan Community Service Commission, which was formed as an initial national model prior to the passage of the authorizing legislation that established commissions in each of the 50 states. As an organizer, activist, and participant, Mr. Dirks has the history and insight on how MCSC developed.

Leadership Highlights

Mr. Frank Dirks talks about his career in philanthropy.
  • Mr. Frank Dirks talks about the beginning of the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC).
  • Mr. Frank Dirks talks about how leaders in Michigan helped contribute to Michigan's philanthropic legacy.
  • Mr. Frank Dirks talks about the willingness of Michigan's philanthropic leaders to work together.
  • Mr. Frank Dirks talks about his career in philanthropy.
  • Mr. Frank Dirks talks about the national influence of Michigan's philanthropic sector.
  • Mr. Frank Dirks talks about how program officers become personally invested in their work.


Mr. Frank Dirks graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

Philanthropic Biography

Mr. Dirks grew up in Washington, D.C. After college, he spent time teaching history, literature, and government to middle and high school students. As he taught, he began focusing on educating students in how to be responsible citizens. Mr. Dirks would take his students on government study programs through nonprofit organizations, and he recognized that upon returning home his students had no way to continue that civic engagement.

This realization motivated his career change to join Youth Service America (YSA) in 1990 as a field organizer, where he connected with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF). As a field organizer, he became involved in the formation of the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC).

“I think that everybody worked together. I think that everybody tried to take a 30,000-foot view and then see where other people could fit in and complement that. I don’t think that there was ever a reaction of ‘Well we don’t need that’ or ‘That doesn’t fit here.’ I think that Dottie, for instance, she would certainly look and see how what we were talking about related to community foundations and the Community Foundation Youth Project and was very supportive of that, willing to help out with that.”

In 1992, following the creation of MCSC, Mr. Dirks worked as a program director for the Close Up Foundation. Close Up educates students to become active and informed citizens who understand the rights and responsibilities of living in a democracy. Soon after, in 1994, Mr. Dirks returned to act as executive director for MCSC until 1997.

After moving to South Carolina to be with his wife, Mr. Dirks worked with the South Carolina Commission and the South Carolina Association for Nonprofit Organizations, hoping to use the lessons he had learned in Michigan, and to re-create some of his successes. However, he was largely met with resistance, and lacked the support and infrastructure that he had enjoyed in Michigan.

Despite his efforts, Mr. Dirks didn’t see the progress for which he had hoped and began working with UBS Financial Services in 2004. His time within South Carolina’s nonprofit sector was not for naught however, and many of the changes and tactics he suggested are slowly being implemented there.

Contributions to the Field

Mr. Dirks’ greatest contribution to the field of philanthropy in the state of Michigan is very likely his unflagging efforts in helping to create the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC) while employed with Youth Service America. One of the first steps in this undertaking was to convene the First Youth Service Michigan Conference, in response to the National and Community Service Act of 1990. This meeting included the K-12 community service projects, the Campus Compact, the Michigan Conservation Corps, and other youth and education-based service facilitators. Nearly all of these were grantees of the Philanthropy and Volunteerism programming area at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which WKKF Program Director Joel J. Orosz had been coordinating since 1988.

“Kellogg was truly invested. They were not just financially invested, they were institutionally and culturally invested in the state and what they were doing … Russ Mawby would be personally invested in what the Kellogg Foundation was investing financially in.”

Mr. Dirks was instrumental in this step, not only in communicating with the various parties, but also in writing suggestions for how the conference should be run. This conference demonstrated the interest in creating a commission entity, a project that quickly received support from a large number of foundations and interest groups throughout the state. Mr. Dirks also helped gain the support and involvement of Gov. John Engler, his staff, and the first lady of the state, Michelle Engler.

Executive Order 1991-25 was signed by Gov. Engler in October 1991, establishing the creation of MCSC after almost a year of hard work by Mr. Dirks and numerous Michigan supporters, especially the Council of Michigan Foundations. The Michigan Commission was one of the first state commissions in the nation, formed in anticipation of the federal legislation that would create commissions in each of the 50 states. Mrs. Michelle Engler agreed to serve as the first chair of the commission. From 1991 through the election of Gov. Rick Snyder, the first lady or first gentleman (representing both the Republican and the Democratic Parties) have served as the Michigan Community Service Commission Chair (although retired W.K. Kellogg Foundation CEO and Chairman Dr. Russell Mawby served as chair during the interregnum between the Engler and Granholm administrations).

This did not signal the end of Mr. Dirks’ labors on the project. In November of 1991, he penned a report to the newly formed MCSC in which he proposed a framework for the objectives, membership, and initial projects that the commission should follow. This framework met with a generally positive response from its members, and was used in the development of MCSC and for the construction of its grant application. Mr. Dirks later acted as executive director of MCSC from 1994 to 1997, and has served on its Learning Leadership Council and the Staff Advisory Council.

Since its establishment in 1991, MCSC has earned its place as one of the primary infrastructure organizations in the state through its promotion of volunteerism and retention of volunteers, securing and granting of federal funds, facilitating communication between volunteer organizations, and the volunteer-centered research and evaluation it conducts. Since 1991, it has granted more than $100 million in public and private funds, and leveraged over $85 million in local resources to support community volunteer initiatives (1).


Mr. Dirks was interviewed regarding his insights and experiences in working with Michigan’s philanthropic community and the Our State of Generosity (OSoG) partners. The following are selected quotations from his interview specifically related to the five organizing themes of the OSoG project.

Philanthropy and Public Policy

“We see this in our public policy now, that unless there is unhesitating, strong, private sector leadership that also can write a check, it’s hard to get going. That gives government, either by design or by default, leverage over the whole process which can ultimately distort it from what it all started out to be, which is ‘how do we make communities a better place for kids through voluntary and philanthropic activities.’”
“If government is to be effective as a partner, it has to be a capital investor who’s willing to walk away and let people do what they need to do in their own communities. If government doesn’t, then government runs the show, and then people don’t have to step up and take that lead. That’s the dilemma.”

National & Global Implications

“We also used the experience of Michigan to try to leverage more resources so we could work with other states and we actually did. So I spent a lot of time in addition to what I was doing in Michigan, traveling around, trying to get other states interested in it. Kansas was another state that put together, through this kind of competitive process — that was the hook. We were trying to get people to get engaged, use the allure of this federal start-up money through this competitive application process, and the relative codification of these commission entities.”

Practical Wisdom

“It requires a certain degree of discipline and hard-heartedness, for lack of a better word, when you’re out there motivated to save the world. ‘I want to help kids. I want to do this. I want to bring philanthropy. I want to get people volunteering. What I’m doing is good.’ Well, it may not be efficient. It may not be cost-effective. It may not be the best use of the public dime. All of that stuff gets tossed out the window because you’re kind of caught up in what it’s about. That creates a dynamic where you create institutional dependency.”


(1) “MCSC’s Mission and Vision” Michigan Community Service Commission. n.p., 2014. Web. 6 June 2014. Found here

This profile was last updated: 02/05/2015