The Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project (MCFYP) was Dr. Agard’s initial undertaking with the Council of Michigan Foundations. MCFYP endeavored to strengthen and spread community foundations throughout the state, and to create a youth endowment and Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) for each community foundation. The Youth Advisory Committees would be comprised of diverse young people under the age of 21, and would empower them to act as grantmakers. This gave them the ability to solve issues within their community while educating them on the process of grantmaking and the capacity of foundations and nonprofits to create change. MCFYP succeeded in reaching its goals; every Michigan community has access to a community foundation, and YACs continue to operate across the state. The project has become a model for youth grantmaking across the nation.
After working on MCFYP for eight years, Dr. Agard began work on another project, which was then called the “K-12 Education in Philanthropy Project,” but is now known as Learning to Give. This initiative provides K-12 teachers with the tools to incorporate themes and topics about philanthropy into their classrooms. The vision behind Learning to Give is that all youth should have an understanding of philanthropy, how it affects their community, and how they can become actively involved in philanthropic activities. This is facilitated through the creation of lesson plans that integrate a focus on philanthropy into topics that teachers are already required to teach, thus delivering the philanthropic lessons to kids without creating new requirements for already overburdened teachers. These lesson plans were created by teachers, for teachers, and are available online for download for free. Dr. Agard acted as executive director of the Learning to Give initiative for the Council of Michigan Foundations from 1997 to 2006. During this time, she guided its focus and development and created a program that would later spread from Michigan to much of the United States.
“One of the things we benefit by, in Michigan, is that people naturally have developed relationships, but I also think that they have an understanding that they need to nurture their relationships. People get in the car and they actually drive to the Upper Peninsula. They drive over to Detroit, or from Detroit they drive over to Muskegon. Michigan is a big state, and still people get together. They take the time to get together. They talk with one another. They josh one another. They go to dinner. I think all of those kinds of things help it when things go wrong. So then when the natural tension happens that will happen as you’re trying to do something new, you have trust in the other people that it just went wrong. It was just a mistake, not that there was any ulterior motive or that there was any other thing other than just life is messy and sometimes things happen, and that everybody is trying to help each other out. Being intentional about developing those relationships might seem a little odd at first, but it’s incredibly important.”
In 2006, Dr. Agard left the Learning to Give project to take the position of executive director of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). Under her leadership, the Johnson Center introduced new functions, and saw an increasing income each year. Among the expansions were the creation of The Foundation Review, the first peer-reviewed journal on the nonprofit and philanthropic field, and the creation of the Frey Foundation Chair for Family Foundations and Philanthropy (1). Dr. Agard retired from this position at the end of 2010, and was succeeded by Dr. James Edwards, who said “Dr. Kathy Agard retired, leaving us with a strong local and national reputation. We plan to continue building on her work and our commitment to being a key organization in support of the philanthropic and nonprofit work in Michigan and nationally.” During this period, Dr. Agard was also teaching as an associate professor with the School of Public, Nonprofit, and Health Administration at GVSU (2).
Dr. Agard has been involved as a volunteer with a number of nonprofit groups, and has acted on a variety of boards within the sector. She served as vice chair of the board of trustees for Hackley Hospital, as well as chairing its investigational review committee, and serving on its personnel committee. She also has been very active within her church, Temple United Methodist Church, and has been involved with the both the board of trustees and the board of advisors for the Michigan Nonprofit Association. Additionally, Dr. Agard has been an active writer in the field, notably editing the two-volume series, Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations: A Reference Handbook.