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Leader Profile:

John Marshall

John Marshall was president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation during the creation and implementation of several Michigan’s philanthropic institutions. He brought the idea of Campus Compact to Michigan and worked tirelessly as a volunteer to assure its successful implementation. As a board member of CMF, Marshall served as the first chair of the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project Board (when it was incorporated as a supporting organization of CMF). He later skillfully led the implementation of MCFYP on the policy level, and required other MCFYP board members to personally visit the community foundation grantees and Youth Advisory Committees, to assure the spirit of youth empowerment was carried out alongside the literal requirements of the challenge grant. Marshall offers insights about Michigan’s philanthropic community from both a national and local perspective.

Leadership Highlights

Mr. John Marshall talks about the development of the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project (MCFYP).
Mr. John Marshall talks about the success and influence of the Michigan Community Foundations' Youth Project (MCFYP).
Mr. John Marshall talks about the creation of Michigan Campus Compact.
Mr. John Marshall talks about his career in philanthropy.
Mr. John Marshall talks about Stanley Kresge's role in the development of the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF).
Mr. John Marshall talks about the development of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
Mr. John Marshall talks about the benefits of Michigan's philanthropic infrastructure.
Mr. John Marshall talks about the value of being patient, particularly for funders, in philanthropy.


In 1964, John Marshall earned a bachelor’s degree from Brown University.

Philanthropic Biography

When John Marshall graduated from Brown University in 1964, the U.S. was in the midst of the Vietnam War. Rather than head straight into the workforce, Marshall attended Officer Candidate School and served for three years in the U.S. Navy.

In 1972, Marshall returned to his alma mater in Providence, R.I., as the associate director of development. While there he learned the art of fundraising, a skill that carried over to his position as executive director of the Rhode Island Foundation — a statewide community foundation.

While the Rhode Island Foundation grew, Marshall was hesitant to leave when offered the position of vice president at the Kresge Foundation, a private foundation in Michigan. Ultimately, the opportunity to work at a national foundation and effect change in a bigger context swayed his mind.

“I found Michigan [to be] the kind of climate in which you could stay stuck in your own corner and do just your type of grant, or you could get out, get involved, and have an effect on programs that your own limited funding couldn’t fund, and that was a great pleasure to me.”

Marshall stayed at Kresge for 27 years, 13 of which he spent as the foundation’s president and CEO. Rather than remain in a “corner” of the state, Marshall committed deeply to developing Michigan’s statewide philanthropic infrastructure.

Contributions to the Field

By the time John Marshall stepped down as CEO in 2006, the Kresge Foundation had expanded from 10 staff members to 32, and from $650 million in assets to $3.4 billion.  “These are only numbers,” he says, “but it does express that it was quite the ride.”

Marshall invested voluntary time and effort into the expansion of community foundations across Michigan. Detroit was one of the last major metropolitan areas in the U.S. that still lacked a community foundation when Marshall first moved there. One of his first major projects involved pushing for the development of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan (CFSEM).

Inspiration for this project came when Homer Wadsworth, executive director of the Cleveland Foundation at the time, told Marshall at a conference, “I have never understood why you don’t have a community foundation here in Detroit.” This got Marshall penning letters and, ultimately, the Kresge Foundation collaborated with the local United Way and the Hudson-Webber Foundation to found Detroit’s first successful community foundation in 1984.

“John was a true believer in the role that community foundations can play,” says Mariam Noland, CFSEM’s executive director. “He was an advocate/leader for us and nurtured us for years.”

Marshall later spearheaded the creation of Michigan Campus Compact, a state branch of the national program headquartered at his alma mater, Brown University. The mission of Campus Compact is to promote civic engagement and service-learning on college campuses everywhere.

“What Campus Compact does is to stimulate from within; it lets students initiate new projects, lets faculty get involved and ride on the wave of community service… and finally, there is the very interesting prospect of experiential learning.”

The Kresge Foundation offered program managers the opportunity to take a three-month workload reduction to focus on a project of their own. Program manager Deborah Wallace (now Deborah Landesman) chose to create Michigan’s branch of Campus Compact as her project, and Marshall quickly became a supporter. With the assistance of the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the program was implemented in 1989 and now has chapters within 38 Michigan colleges and universities.

In the early 90s, Marshall was a public advocate for the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project (MCFYP). On behalf of CMF, he traveled around the state for five years, visited large cities and small towns, and issued a 2:1 challenge grant to build endowed funds for the future success of these communities. The goal, fostered within CMF, was for every citizen to have access to a community foundation, as well as to promote youth grantmaking.

Marshall had a heart for the kind of leadership kids could offer. Young people were at the table when he first pitched the idea of a Youth Advisory Council. He wanted to hear what was on their minds even if the discussions led to some difficult subjects, like teen pregnancy or reproductive health education, or topical subjects, like internet access in communities where there was none.

“People understand that intellectually it is a good thing, but that doesn’t ensure action on their part or success even if they act. If they understand it emotionally at the same time, that’s a pretty powerful incentive. That’s what creating the theme of youth philanthropy, I think, did.”

Though Marshall entered Michigan’s philanthropic community as a leader for a private, national foundation, he went above and beyond this role to support the growth of both community foundations and youth philanthropy, investing both financial resources and his own personal time to ensure projects like MCFYP, Michigan Campus Compact, and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan prospered.


John Marshall was interviewed regarding his experiences in working with Michigan’s philanthropic community and Our State of Generosity’s (OSoG) partners. The following quotes specifically relate to the five organizing themes of the OSoG project.

Servant Leadership in Michigan Philanthropy

“Michigan was a good place for accepting the offers of people who wanted to do more outside their own sphere. It was a good place to encourage people to do that. I must say that I think it was the very welcoming and positive atmosphere created by Russ Mawby and Dottie, individually and together, which helped set the climate that I tried to ascribe. It was part of their wiring, I think, to get people to do more than they were charged…. and they did it by inclusion, rather than by dictating.”

National and Global Implications

“I don’t know how to compare [the Michigan experience] with what happens in New York State or in Ohio or in California. I know people who have positions like [Russ and Dottie’s] or like my own in all of those places, but I don’t know for sure how these things work their way out. I don’t think anybody does. You see, every once in a while people will try to measure giving from one community to another or one state to another, and you come out with a list that says this state is cheap and that state is generous, and so forth. If you did the same thing five years later, it might be very different. I think it’s a very hard thing to measure.”

Practical Wisdom

“The optimism which says that anything is possible should be put alongside the necessity of having champions for whatever the activity is – and supportive, but not necessarily intrusive or invasive funders. You can garner a lot of publicity. Any funder can garner a lot of publicity for program success, self-described, by giving big amounts of money and celebrating it with their own internal public relations department. The risk is that you will start to believe your own press and never really evaluate what is done…. and be so hungry for success that you will move on to another project before the project, just started, has really taken hold.”



A special note of thanks to Susan Harrison-Wolffis who drafted the initial profile of John Marshall.

This profile was last updated: 04/06/2020