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Leader Profile:

James (Jim) McHale

Mr. James (Jim) McHale understands Michigan's philanthropic community from many perspectives. He has been a fundraiser, nonprofit founder, technical assistance provider, and grantmaker. As the primary creator of the youth component of the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project for the Council of Michigan Foundations, Mr. McHale traveled throughout the state working deep in communities with local philanthropic leaders. As senior vice president for programs of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, he served as a visionary and leader with international grantmaking responsibility for one of the world's largest foundations. These perspectives inform Mr. McHale’s insights into the work of Michigan philanthropy.

Leadership Highlights

  • Served in a variety of roles at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, perhaps most notably as senior vice president for programs, chief of staff, and vice president for program strategy, 1993-2014
  • Helped create and strengthen community foundations across Michigan, and formed Youth Advisory Councils while acting as a program associate for the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project, 1991–1993
  • Developed an annual statewide youth leadership conference
  • Founded Camp Catch-A-Rainbow, a summer camp for kids with cancer, as well as a similar camp in Russia.
Mr. Jim McHale talks about his career in philanthropy.
  • Mr. Jim McHale provides advice on how to build philanthropic infrastructure.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the importance of trusting local leaders to adapt philanthropic initiatives that best fit their area's needs.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the importance of big vision in philanthropic work.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the importance of servant leadership.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the importance of betting on people with who have confidence, integrity, and your trust.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the importance of communities being the driving force for public policy change.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project (MCFYP) had an impact bigger than can be fully measured.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the Kellogg Foundation's challenge grant and the grass roots effort to grow community foundations across the state of Michigan.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the importance of maintaining flexible relationships and wearing multiple hats in philanthropic work.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the growth of philanthropic infrastructure in Michigan.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the importance of having bold vision and the capacity to follow through on this vision.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about how a tax credit was implemented in Montana by sharing values but trusting local leaders to implement the finer details.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about his career in philanthropy.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the first youth camp conference hosted by the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project (MCFYP).
  • Mr. Jim McHale provides advice on we can maintain Michigan's philanthropic culture.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the relationship between Michigan and Indiana's philanthropic sector.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about what was learned from Karin Tice's work evaluating the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project (MCFYP).
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about how many of Michigan's philanthropic initiatives were only successful because they were driven by local leaders.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the importance of collaboration and developing trusting relationships in the nonprofit sector.
  • Mr. Jim McHale talks about the importance of looking backward in order to keep Michigan a State of Generosity.


Mr. Jim McHale attended Western Michigan University in pursuit of a Bachelor of Science degree in public relations, which he received in 1984. He returned to Aquinas College in 1995 to complete a master’s degree in management, which he received in 2001.

Philanthropic Biography

Growing up in Battle Creek, Michigan, Mr. McHale was originally introduced to philanthropy by his parents. He recalls witnessing his mother on the phone contacting members of her school board and church, and being inspired by the reach of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which he learned about from its annual reports. He also often went to committee meetings with his mother, or assisted his father with church fundraisers on weekends. This prevalence of volunteerism during his youth led him to view volunteering as a part of everyday life, though he did not view it as career option until he was diagnosed with cancer in high school.

When in high school, Mr. McHale was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that resulted in the amputation of his left leg. While this was, of course, a misfortune, it allowed him to see the importance of the different foundations, which helped to support his parents and his treatments. He recognized that not only were there jobs in the nonprofit sector, but also that the charitable nonprofits allowed him an outlet to help in the fight against cancer, and those affected by it. This led to his involvement with the American Cancer Society as a fundraiser and “poster child” both during and directly after college. He continued to work for the American Cancer Society for two years after graduation, before looking for employment elsewhere in the field.

Mr. McHale moved to St. Mary’s Health Services in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as a development associate, where he worked closely with well-trained and experienced fundraisers. During this time, he also created a week-long camp for kids with cancer, Camp Catch-A-Rainbow, so that they could share experiences and support among peers — something he felt he lacked in his own treatment. It was during this camp that he began to understand the benefits of empowering youth, and placing them on the board, an experience that served him well throughout his career.

After two years at St. Mary’s, Mr. McHale was recruited to work at Hackley Hospital in Muskegon, Michigan, where he served as a development manager and marketing specialist, creating a development program for the institution. While there, he formed another camp, similar to Camp Catch-A-Rainbow, in the former Soviet Union for children who had acquired cancer as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. Dr. Kathy Agard served as the director for the division that included development at Hackley Hospital, prior to moving to the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF). She was familiar with Mr. McHale’s work and when funding was awarded for the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project, she recruited Mr. McHale as the project’s first program associate with primary responsibility for creating and implementing the youth empowerment responsibilities. While there, he assisted in implementing a $35 million challenge grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that aimed to ensure that every citizen in Michigan had access to a community foundation, but more specifically to Mr. McHale, to introduce young people to philanthropy. This led to the creation of Youth Advisory Councils (YACs), which seek to allow youth leaders to act as grantmakers and solve real problems in their communities.

In 1993, after two successful years at CMF, Mr. McHale was offered the position of executive assistant to Dr. Russ Mawby, president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which he accepted with Ms. Dorothy A. Johnson’s (CMF’s CEO) and Dr. Agard’s blessings. Mr. McHale remained at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation until 2014, serving as a program officer, chief of staff, and finally as senior vice president for programs.

Contributions to the Field

Mr. McHale’s contributions to the field of philanthropy were both many and far-reaching. He founded Camp Catch-A-Rainbow at the age of 24, and it continues to offer young cancer patients from Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, a place to enjoy themselves with peers who are experiencing  similar circumstances. The camp he founded in Russia was the first of its kind in the country. He also was a co-founder of Kalamazoo Special Skiing, an organization that helps to train blind and physically disabled individuals how to downhill ski.

His work for the Council of Michigan Foundations was particularly important to the state of Michigan, as he was essential in the growth of community foundations. The Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project not only strengthened the sector within the state, but also made Michigan the first geographically large, heavily-populated state to bring community foundation services to every region. The 86 YACs that were created alongside many of the community foundations continue to operate today, empowering youths to help their community, thereby creating a sense of duty that often follows them as they age. By involving youths in this way, the YACs strengthen interest in the sector immediately, as they build the next generation of volunteers and nonprofit leaders.

Mr. McHale’s work at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation was also very beneficial to the sector. His duties at Kellogg included providing overall leadership to program areas, shaping policies and strategies, and directing organization-wide systems. He was also in charge of human and financial resources, and was responsible for select programs, including the Latin American/Caribbean and African programs. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation works to unite individuals and their communities to promote the well-being and development of children, and is involved in Haiti, Mexico, northeastern Brazil, southern Africa, and throughout the United States.

“Sometimes I think foundations and organizations feel that you can just pick up a model and drop it in another community or another part of the world and it’s going to be run just like it is where it was originated. I think we have to understand, what you take are the values and the principles, but then you let the people in the local community or in that particular country put it in their own context within their culture, and make it something that’s probably going to even be better and stronger there than had they just taken our instruction manual on how to start a Youth Advisory Council or how to start a community foundation. If you put it in their context, in their culture, let them own it, then it’s going to be much stronger. But if you can at least share some of the values and the principles, I think that’s a much better way of having that type of replication take place.”

Outside of his employment and related pursuits, Mr. McHale was heavily involved throughout the sector through volunteering and sitting on nonprofit boards. Notably, he is currently chair of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy’s Leadership Council, and has participated on numerous regional boards, including the Urban League of Battle Creek, the Coalition of Community Foundations for Youth, and the Council of Michigan Foundations, among many others.


Mr. McHale 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.

Servant Leadership in Michigan Philanthropy

“We [grantmakers] need to come at this with great humility. This is not our money. We have to be very thoughtful and understanding of stewardship and what that means, and that’s a broad word.”

“Stay humble throughout all this work and realize that no foundation (that I’m aware of) has ever fed a hungry child, they’ve never taught a child how to read, they’ve never helped a woman develop the work skills so she can go back to work and support her three children. All we have is money, and money in and of itself can accomplish absolutely nothing. It’s the grantees who are the ones that are really making the impact in those communities. And let’s remember that. That yes, we have money, and people sometimes hold us up for wonderful things, but we haven’t made any of these contributions in these communities like people often think we do. It’s the grantees and the people out there who are doing that great work, so stay humble.”

“I think Michigan, by no question, has an ethic of servant leadership. I think it comes long before things such as the Kellogg Foundation or the Mott Foundation or the Kresge Foundation. I would take you to Battle Creek, Michigan, in about 1845 when this thing came through Battle Creek called the Underground Railroad … The Underground Railroad was not made possible by funding from the United Way. It did not receive a grant from the Kellogg Foundation. It was created by individuals who understood their role in trying to help other individuals seek the freedom that they so desperately deserved … I think this is a state — and every community throughout the state probably has some other interesting, unique stories about that — that didn’t require funding from a corporation, or a foundation, or United Way. People just understood that this is how we treat one another, this is how we take care of one another, and now it’s our responsibility as citizens of this state to make sure that we give other people the understanding of that type of ethic and servant leadership.”

Human, Financial, and Knowledge Resources

“It really all does come down to people. I tell new program officers when they’re coming in, ‘You’re going to hear about some fabulous programs and opportunities to fund, but at the end of the day, you’re betting on this individual who is going to be leading this program. You need to be able to bet on people who can clearly articulate where it is they want to go.’ They may not know exactly how they’re going to get there, but somehow they know they’re going to get there. They’ve got big, bold ideas. They’re not afraid of challenges. They also realize that they can’t do it alone, and they understand the importance of partnerships and relationships and working with other organizations … People who have an understanding of the importance of working with one another, where there are levels of trust and confidence and integrity.”

National & Global Implications

“[Michigan projects] have become national models. I remember having the opportunity to accompany Kathy Agard and Russ Mawby … to meet with the governor of Montana who’d learned about our tax credit. We went in, and I think [we] just felt that our tax credit was so perfect, you just want to kind of replicate this. They were intrigued by the whole idea, but they felt there was another way they could do it, and I think the moral of the story was they developed a tax credit that was even stronger than the state of Michigan’s … At the end of the day, we realized that, again, it’s best to share just kind of some values, and some principles, and some ideas, and then let the local people develop it in their own context and such.”

Practical Wisdom

“It’s also really important that as you’re dealing with tough community issues that might require some public policy issues, that regardless of your own politics, you’ve got to put those aside and you’ve got to deal with both sides of the aisle, because that’s the only way you can start bringing people together. You need to take a long-term view. The communities and the issues that philanthropy is often dealing with — they didn’t get into these problems overnight, you’re not going to get out of these problems overnight, and if you think a three-year or a five-year initiative is going to fix it, you’re crazy. You’ve really got to try to take the long-term view. You’ve got to find the right people and bet on the right people and keep in close contact with them.”

“When I do have young people who come to me and ask about getting jobs at foundations, I really encourage them to get some experience out in communities first, either through their professional experience by working for an NGO, or certainly volunteering, serving on some local nonprofit boards, and realizing that different foundations are looking for different skill sets … I think it’s important to get involved in the nonprofit sector, start getting on some boards. If you have the opportunities to go to networking meetings such as a Council of Michigan Foundations, an MNA conference, or an Independent Sector conference, take advantage of those opportunities and just be patient.”

This profile was last updated: 01/09/2015