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Leader Profile:

Joel Orosz

Dr. Joel J. Orosz skillfully nurtured, funded, advised, led, and implemented the development of Michigan’s philanthropic infrastructure from his position as program director of philanthropy and volunteerism at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Council of Michigan Foundations, already a mature organization, benefited from his handling of the complex, multi-year, state-wide, multi-million challenge to build community foundation services across Michigan. Reflecting on his grantmaking career, Dr. Orosz founded, developed the curriculum, and implemented a national grantmaker education program called The Grantmaking School. As a long-time reflective practitioner, author, and professor in the field of philanthropy with deep roots in Michigan, Dr. Orosz is the highly qualified managing editor for the project that seeks to capture the lessons learned in Michigan over the past 40 years – Our State of Generosity.

Leadership Highlights

  • Distinguished professor of philanthropic studies emeritus, Grand Valley State University
  • Founding director of The Grantmaking School
  • Member of the national content advisory committee of Learning to Give
  • Program director of philanthropy and volunteerism at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
  • Author of several key texts on the topics of grantmaking and nonprofit leadership
Dr. Joel Orosz talks about his career in philanthropy.
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  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about the impetus and history of the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project (MCFYP).
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about how Russ Mawby and Dottie Johnson encouraged a culture of cooperation in Michigan philanthropy.
  • Dr. Kathy Agard and Dr. Joel Orosz discuss their concerns with the movement toward a business model of philanthropy.
  • Dr. Kathy Agard and Dr. Joel Orosz discuss the success of the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project (MCFYP).
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about the importance of letting local leadership take ownership of a project and apply principles in their own way.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about how the building of underlying infrastructure nurtured the growth of Michigan's philanthropic sector.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about how philanthropic leaders must strike a balance being passive and being aggressive about following their own vision.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about how being a philanthropic leader means being a good listener.
  • Dr. Kathy Agard and Dr. Joel Orosz talk about how children embody the kind of fearlessness that allows youth philanthropy to create bold and innovative change.
  • Dr. Kathy Agard and Dr. Joel Orosz discuss how flexible planning and big vision allowed the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project to flourish.
  • Dr. Kathy Agard and Dr. Joel Orosz discuss the remarkable leadership of Russ Mawby.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about how important flexibility was in collecting challenge grants for the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project (MCFYP).
  • Dr. Kathy Agard and Dr. Joel Orosz discuss the remarkable leadership of Dottie Johnson.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about both the impetus and initial resistance to the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA).
  • Dr. Kathy Agard and Dr. Joel Orosz talk about the push for diverse Youth Advisory Committees and the success stories that resulted.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about the importance of grantmaker education and the development of The Grantmaking School.
  • Dr. Kathy Agard and Dr. Joel Orosz discuss the effects of prolonged adolescence on today's youth and how philanthropy can help.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about his career in philanthropy.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about how MCFYP's success came from its roots in local leadership.
  • Dr. Kathy Agard and Dr. Joel Orosz discuss the importance of servant leadership and sharing credit in philanthropic work.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about his concerns for the field of philanthropy.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about why learning about Michigan's philanthropic history is so important.
  • Dr. Joel Orosz talks about the development of the Foundation Information Management System (FIMS) to keep community foundations across the state organized.
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Education

Dr. Joel J. Orosz received his Bachelor of Arts in history from Kalamazoo College in 1979. He earned his Master of Arts in history and museum studies, as well as his doctoral degree in U.S. social history, from Case Western Reserve University.

Philanthropic Biography

Dr. Orosz’s first experience with philanthropy came as a grantee during his tenure as a curator at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Following his work at the museum, he became the executive assistant to Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board Dr. Russell G. Mawby at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 1986. This position provided the opportunity to be mentored by Mawby and observe the scale of, and vision for, Michigan philanthropy. Upon the untimely death of his direct supervisor and additional mentor, Dr. Peter Ellis, Dr. Orosz was promoted from his role as executive assistant to the grantmaking responsibilities for the Kellogg Foundation’s portfolio in philanthropy and volunteerism.

“It’s learning that you’re not there to be the sage on the stage; that you are there to be the guide on the side. I think that’s the toughest thing, especially for people who’ve been used to being in charge … because they’ve been used to calling the shots, and they want to be the star of the show. That’s not what your job is as a grantmaker. Your job — at best you’re a director and at worse you’re a critic, but either way, you’re not on the stage declaiming. That’s someone else’s job.” -On being a grantmaker

Contributions to the Field

Dr. Orosz served a total of 15 years at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation as executive assistant and as program director for philanthropy and volunteerism programming from 1986 to 2001. During his time at the Kellogg Foundation, Dr. Orosz was instrumental in making grants and providing personal leadership to create key pieces of Michigan’s nonprofit infrastructure, including the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, the Michigan Nonprofit Association, the Michigan Community Service Commission, the ConnectMichigan Alliance, the Volunteer Centers of Michigan, and the Michigan Campus Compact. As a grantmaker and a program director, Dr. Orosz helped guide the development for all six of these organizations, which have become pillars in the Michigan philanthropic community, and models replicated nationally and internationally.

“The great glory of the nonprofit sector is that anyone can look at any problem and say, ‘I’m going to start an organization to fix that.’ I mean that’s how Habitat for Humanity started. That’s how Doctors Without Borders started; all the great nonprofits. So that’s a great glory of the nonprofit sector. The great curse of the nonprofit sector is that anyone could look at any problem and say, ‘I’m going to start an organization to fix that’ … We’re over two million nonprofit organizations now — many of which are overlapping in what they do, others of which leave big gaps that they should be covering. All of whom are tripping over each other fundraising. One of these days, people might sit down and say, ‘Now, wait a minute. Why are there six organizations in my community all dedicated to homelessness relief and yet people are still homeless? What’s going on here?’ So we need to find some way to keep the sector open to social entrepreneurs, but to make sure that they don’t start the seventh or the eighth homelessness relief organization in town. Because if six didn’t solve it, seven won’t solve it either.”

In addition, Dr. Orosz served as the lead grantmaker from 1989 until 2001 for the $65+ million innovative Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project (MCFYP), which created 23 new community foundations in Michigan, 86 permanently endowed Youth Advisory Councils, and brought full community foundation coverage to every person in the state. MCFYP was groundbreaking in not only jump-starting youth philanthropy, but also in encouraging unprecedented rates of community engagement with their matching grant strategy.

“By giving so much ownership to the community on how they raised that money and what they did with it, it made them own their community foundation. There are communities all around the state today where the community foundation is theirs and they care about it. They raise money for it and they volunteer to serve it. If we at the Kellogg Foundation had planned this whole thing and imposed it on people, that wouldn’t have happened. That ownership would not have happened. By letting it go in many ways, by ceding control to the localities, we ended up with something far, far better than we could have ever planned on our own.”

Concerned about the lack of preparation and professional training of grantmakers, Dr. Orosz used his 1999 sabbatical leave from the Kellogg Foundation to write the first, and still one of very few, books on the skills needed and the issues faced in the grantmaking profession. These insights led to his founding of The Grantmaking School, the first university-based, national program in formal grantmaker education. After leaving the Kellogg Foundation, Dr. Orosz brought his experience to Grand Valley State University, becoming the state of Michigan’s first professor of Philanthropic Studies. During this time, he worked closely with the Johnson Center to launch The Grantmaking School. “I had these wonderful opportunities, as Isaac Newton said, ‘to stand on the shoulders of giants.’ … Not everyone can sit in a car with Russ Mawby for three hours or have Pete Ellis take you under his wing,” said Dr. Orosz. “Those were incredible gifts I was given, so passing those along to other people in a more systematic way through The Grantmaking School made sense to me.”

Dr. Orosz has served on numerous local, state, and national boards including: chairing the National Council on Foundations’ committee on legislation and regulations; serving on the advisory committee of the Points of Light Foundation; serving as a charter commissioner (1991–1999) of the Michigan Community Service Commission; serving on the public policy committee of the Council of Michigan Foundations; and serving as a member of the national content advisory committee of Learning to Give. During his time as a grantmaker, Dr. Orosz was deeply involved in advising, supporting, and consulting on virtually all of the major initiatives supporting the field of philanthropy both in Michigan across the nation.

“I think the thing that is most important to learn is that in the ahistorical nature of our field, most people, especially in foundations, think that history began the day they walked in the door. The most important thing to know is that the Michigan story is not the typical story. Most areas have a weak regional association of grantmakers, if they have one at all — a lot of areas don’t. Most states have weak nonprofit associations, if they have one at all — many still don’t. The Community Service Commissions vary in quality all over the map, ours is a particularly good one. Most places don’t have a Center for the Study of Philanthropy in the local university.

To have all four of those, and to have them all networked together and working together and to have them be as strong as they are, none of this is an accident … It drives me absolutely nuts when people come in to the field and just take these resources for granted and say, ‘Oh you know, if we need a strong infrastructure, we’ll fund it ourselves.’ Well, you’ve got one and it’s unusual and you should use it to the full extent. There are people who would kill to have this kind of an infrastructure in their state. So learn a little bit about the world, my friends.”

He is a fellow of the American Numismatic Society and a member of the Rittenhouse Society, both scholarly organizations in the world of numismatics (coin collecting). Dr. Orosz has written seven books and edited another on the topics of museums, numismatics, and philanthropy, including: The Insider’s Guide to Grantmaking: How Foundations Find, Fund, and Manage Effective Programs; Effective Foundation Management: 14 Challenges of Philanthropic Leadership — and How to Outfox Them; and For the Benefit of All: A History of Philanthropy in Michigan.

Quotes

Dr. Orosz 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

“Russ [Mawby] felt that [grantmakers] needed to be ‘shirtsleeves,’ is the word that he often used. That we need to take off our jackets, roll up our shirtsleeves, and work with the people who are doing the job. Not because we’re so brilliant, so much as because it taught us what the real issues were and the real concerns were, so we were immersed in that.”

“I think very much it had to do with going back to that relationship between Russ and Dottie. They were sort of the mom and the dad of the sector in Michigan. They cooperated well themselves — not only together, but with others. They set that expectation that there would not be any lone wolves or prima donnas out there in the sector; that people needed to work together. Because Kellogg was such a predominant funder, Kellogg had the ability to say, ‘I’m sorry. If you were doing this in cooperation with others, we might consider it. But since you decided to do this on your own and by the way, steal other people’s ideas and present them as your own we’re not going to fund it.’ It was never a black list. It was never punitive … but it didn’t take too many turndowns like that before they got the message that, ‘I guess I’d better start working with other people, and really working with other people not just claiming that they’re my partner.’ So again, it was the expectations of Russ and Dottie and how they modeled them that made that work.”

“Well, rather than bait and switch, rather than making people guess about commitment, the Rannys [Margaret “Ranny” Riecker, president of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation] and the Dotties [Dorothy Johnson, president and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations] and the Russells [Dr. Russell G. Mawby, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation] would sit there, roll up their sleeves and work with these folks [the grantees]. So that they knew eventually something was going to happen. Yet, they also knew that they were the ones building it, they were the ones driving it. Even when the money came, they were the ones who are going to be responsible; it wasn’t a Kellogg-funded, Kellogg-owned project.”

“Power, of course, can be exercised in a very assertive and forceful my-way-or-the-highway fashion. It can be done manipulatively, secretly, behind people’s backs – pushing buttons and pulling levers. Or it can be done the way that those giants of the sectors did it – Russ, Dottie, Ranny and John Lore and a few others. The way they did it essentially was to put their cards on the table and say, ‘Here is what we would like to see happen, but we’re not going to dictate how that happens. We want to see a car built; we’re not going to say it has to be a four-wheel drive or two doors or an SUV versus a subcompact – that’s all up to you. We’re going to sit here at the table to help you believe that this is real.’”

Practical Wisdom

“Russ had a philosophy that if you had too many rules, then people began to put their energy into finding ways to evade the rules. So he liked (as a general philosophy) a fairly simple, fairly loose organization.”

“I just think that strategic planning is the biggest fraud ever foisted on us, because it essentially says you can predict the future and control it. If we know there are two things humans can’t do, one is predict the future and two, control it.”

“The most profound lesson I’ve learned from MCFYP was that if we had planned it at the Kellogg Foundation, it would’ve been much more elegant. It would have been much tighter. It would have a better name for sure — MCFYP is a strange name. It would have been better in so many ways except the one way that really counts, and that is in the community. By giving so much ownership to the community on how they raised that money and what they did with it, it made them own their community foundation. There are communities all around the state today where the community foundation is theirs and they care about it. They raise money for it and they volunteer to serve it. If we at the Kellogg Foundation had planned this whole thing and imposed it on people, that wouldn’t have happened. That ownership would not have happened. So by letting it go in many ways, by ceding control to the localities, we ended up with something far, far better than we could have ever planned on our own.”

“I think the most important single thing is that there is a body of knowledge out there about how to be a good grantmaker. Chances are no one’s going to show it to you or assign it to you. Chances are you’re going to have to be proactive and access it yourself.”

“This is a business where it would be wise to remember the adage — Abraham Lincoln is often credited for this — ‘To sit quietly, you appear to be an idiot. If you open your mouth, you remove all doubt.’ There simply is not enough listening in the foundation world, not enough respect for the ideas that come in from outside, not enough people who are willing to say, ‘I’m going to stand here quietly on the side and facilitate this good idea rather than jumping into the spotlight.’ It is so important to be willing to subordinate your own ego and your own needs for notoriety in order to make good ideas work. The ones who were the best at that … are the ones who did it on the side, helping from the background and not on the stage declaiming, doing the soliloquy from Hamlet. That’s how you make things happen in this sector.”

This profile was last updated: 01/09/2015