Mawby’s contributions to the field of philanthropy are seemingly innumerable. Mawby was heavily involved in the vision and implementation of all of the primary infrastructure organizations in Michigan’s nonprofit sector. He strongly supported the growth of community philanthropy both within Michigan and nationwide. He was involved in building philanthropy internationally, propelled education on the sector through Learning to Give and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), and carefully mentored and empowered many of today’s nonprofit leaders. His influences exceed even this broad list. However, the focus of Our State of Generosity is on Michigan’s infrastructure organizations and nonprofit sector, and so the following section will highlight this focus. We encourage readers who may be interested in a more comprehensive overview of Mawby’s career to access the Russell Mawby papers housed at the GVSU Special Collections and University Archives; view his interview in the Michigan Philanthropy Oral History Project, and an interview alongside Kari Pardoe regarding his commitment to youth empowerment; examine a number of Mawby’s personal documents from his career in the digital collection (including numerous speeches and field notes); and visit Wikipedia. Learning to Give’s briefing paper on Dr. Mawby (co-authored by Kathy Agard, primary author of Our State of Generosity) is highly informational and has been an influential source in creating this profile.
In 1964, Mawby met with Emory Morris of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to discuss the foundation’s open position of director of the division of agriculture. While initially hesitant due to his position as a tenured professor at MSU (at the age of 35), after visiting the Kellogg Foundation and learning about its mission, Mawby agreed to take on the role. Two years later he became vice president of all programs, and in 1970, succeeded Morris as president and CEO of the foundation. Mawby remained in this position for 25 years, until his retirement in 1995. The Kellogg Foundation provided Mawby with a platform for engaging with and encouraging the growth of Michigan’s nonprofit sector as a whole.
Council of Michigan Foundations
Shortly before Mawby assumed the role of president and CEO of the Kellogg Foundation, the Tax Reform Act of 1969 passed. This reform implemented a number of changes that affected the nonprofit sector and private foundations in particular, and so Mawby and other large Michigan foundation leaders felt that it would be beneficial to discuss the impact of the new legislation. They realized that foundations could benefit from educating themselves about the work of the other grantmaking organizations in Michigan and developing strategic collaborations. Thus, out of this meeting, the Conference of Michigan Foundations was created. It later became an organization named the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) in 1972. Mawby served as a founding member of CMF, acted as chairman of the CMF’s first advisory committee, was named chairman emeritus, and served the board as an ex-officio board and advisory cabinet member until his passing in 2017.
“CMF has the continuing challenge of trustee recruitment and training, engagement of different populations that are [not] traditionally involved as they ought to be, providing opportunities for youth. All of those things are still on the agenda, but some of the public policy issues at this point, it seems to me, are the particularly troublesome ones. And Michigan will suffer the consequences or the benefits of national decisions in addition to decisions at the state level. We were the first state to have a tax credit for [contributions to] community foundations. Others have followed our example and now we don’t have it anymore. So those are the challenges.”
Michigan Nonprofit Association
In 1988, Mawby and the Kellogg Foundation convened representatives from ten leading nonprofit organizations in Michigan to discuss the challenges and opportunities faced by Michigan’s nonprofit sector as a whole, and to discuss the possibility of benefitting through mutual cooperation. Less than two months later, the group met again to discuss a concept paper written by Howard Shapiro that was based on findings from the first meeting. Shapiro’s paper described a “Michigan Nonprofit Forum” that would not establish a set of bylaws or structure, but would act as a network to encourage collaboration and discussion on issues impacting nonprofits statewide, with an early focus on legislation and regulation. This idea was met with approval, and the Michigan Nonprofit Forum was created and given a three-year start-up grant from the Kellogg Foundation (Joel J. Orosz, program director), as well as support from the original members. Mawby chaired the board of trustees, and when the forum encountered early difficulties in implementation, he dispatched executive assistant, David Egner, to bring the forum back to a path of growth. However, the forum’s loose structure and limited staffing hindered its effectiveness and it was therefore restructured in 1995 as an established membership organization that offered nonprofit services under the name of Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA). Mawby served on MNA’s board as chairman emeritus until his death in 2017.
Michigan Community Service Commission
In 1991, the federal government passed the Community and National Service Act, which made it clear that federal service funds would be distributed through statewide commissions. Michigan then underwent a statewide effort to jumpstart such a commission, with the Kellogg Foundation (Joel Orosz, coordinator for philanthropy and volunteerism programming, at that time) providing funding and essential connections to the effort, as well as a grant to bring Frank Dirks from Youth Service America to assist in coordinating and organizing the commission. The Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC) was created in coordination with the state government under the Gov. John Engler administration, with First Lady Michelle Engler serving as its chair.
Mawby had been a strong supporter of the creation of MCSC throughout this process, but his personal involvement came during the critical transition from the Engler administration to the Gov. Jennifer Granholm administration. This change from a founding Republican governor to a new Democratic administration could have been disastrous for MCSC. Many other state commissions found such a transition problematic and faced elimination or extensive restructuring. Fortunately for Michigan, Mawby accepted the position of chair of the commission in 2000, bringing his reputation as a well-respected nonpartisan leader to oversee the transition and working in concert with MCSC’s Executive Director, Kyle Caldwell. This led to a successful transition, and Mawby ceded the chairmanship to Michigan’s First Gentleman Dan Mulhern (Gov. Granholm’s husband) in 2004, while continuing to serve as a commissioner and advisor.
Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
The Kellogg Foundation and Mawby were involved in the creation and development of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (now called the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis). The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is an academic center that seeks to increase understanding of philanthropy and improve its practice through formal education and research. Mawby was personally a member of its board of visitors, and served as a trusted advisor.
“My philosophy personally, and whenever I was engaged in initiating any of these, my part usually, was simply to get people together to talk about an issue or an opportunity. So we would simply talk about it, and is it useful to think about this or the ways in which we can work together collaboratively to the greater benefit of all. I think it is a mindset that we tried to build into the structure and that people continually have seen the benefit of that kind of a mindset.”
Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership
After the Center on Philanthropy at IU was established, Mawby began to pursue the idea of creating such an academic center in Michigan, and through the Kellogg Foundation, convened a meeting of the presidents of Michigan’s four-year education institutions, both private and public. This meeting was called to invite proposals for the creation of one or more such academic centers at one or more of these institutions. Arend “Don” Lubbers of GVSU saw the benefits of such an organization and agreed to commit significant university funds to match the Kellogg Foundation’s grant 1:1. Thus in 1992, the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership was formed at GVSU. Following Dorothy Johnson’s retirement from the role of CEO of the CMF in 1999, the center was renamed as the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership (now the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy) as a tribute to her national philanthropic leadership. The renamed center received CMF’s philanthropic library and an endowment for its maintenance. Mawby later expanded this library through the donation of many of his personal documents, which offer an inside view on his endeavors both statewide and nationally. Additionally, through a personal grant, Mawby supported the creation of the Mawby Fellowship in Philanthropic Studies, which sponsors interdisciplinary faculty-student teams in conducting research that combines their academic focus with the field of philanthropy.
National Infrastructure Organizations
While developing Michigan’s infrastructure organizations, Mawby supported and advised infrastructure organizations at the national level, serving as chairman and board member of the Council on Foundations, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Award in 1992. The Council on Foundations is an association of corporate, family, community, independent, public, and operating foundations that seeks to “expand, enhance, and sustain their ability to advance the common good” (approximately 1,600 members in 2014). Mawby also served as board member and chairman of the Foundation Center, an organization that maintains a comprehensive database of U.S. grantmakers, assists in connecting organizations and individuals with foundations, and conducts research to advance knowledge of philanthropy.
“So it has been a mindset from the very beginning, I think, that we benefit from collaborative efforts and that a community benefits if the various organizations, nonprofits most of them, if they do collaborate to the extent possible.”
Mawby’s long career has often been distinguished by his impassioned involvement in the education and well-being of young people in accordance with the Kellogg Foundation’s mission. One such involvement was with the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Program (MCFYP). MCFYP’s roots stemmed from the Council of Michigan Foundations, which sought to strengthen and spread community foundations across the state. This project was undertaken to ensure that every Michigan citizen had access to a community foundation to which they could donate and directly impact their local area. Mawby and the Kellogg Foundation (Joel Orosz, program director), supported MCFYP through a challenge grant, on the condition that every community foundation must include a Youth Advisory Council (YAC). These YACs consisted of local young people who were given an endowed fund from which to make grants within their community. MCFYP was developed and implemented in part by Kathy Agard. Thanks to this program, young people are introduced to the philanthropic sector and its processes, and given the ability to examine issues faced by their community and to make grants from endowed youth field-of-interest funds to solve problems and improve their hometowns. The Kellogg Foundation gave more than $64 million in challenge and technical assistant grants in support of MCFYP from 1988 to 2006. To explore Mawby’s personal thoughts on the MCFYP project, view his 1991 speech “Why Youth, Why Community Foundations”.
In the midst of implementing MCFYP, Mawby, Orosz, and the Kellogg Foundation once again partnered with CMF to focus on educating young people about the philanthropic sector — this time through the K-12 education system. This partnership created Learning to Give, which uses teacher-created lesson plans to instill an understanding of the roles of philanthropy, volunteerism, and the nonprofit sector within our society. By creating free lesson plans that applied these concepts to previously required classroom standards, Learning to Give is able to assist teachers in meeting mandated requirements instead of forcing additions to their curriculum.
“As I look at community life and as you look at so-called leadership roles and responsibilities, in my judgment, every person has the potential to be a leader.”
Another focus area of Mawby’s career was a commitment to the Battle Creek area. While at the Kellogg Foundation, he led the process of moving the foundation’s headquarters to downtown Battle Creek, championed the expansion of Kellogg Community College and the construction of the Kellogg Arena, the merger of Battle Creek’s two hospitals into a community health system, and engaged local young people with their community through a variety of projects such as the Linear Park project, the Rink, community plantings, and numerous programs through the Binder Park Zoo.
Despite the large number of commitments that Mawby made through the Kellogg Foundation and the infrastructure organizations, he never hesitated to give his personal time to both for-profit and nonprofit boards. Mawby served on the boards of the Kellogg Company, the J. M. Smucker Company, Michigan State University, Starr Commonwealth, the Battle Creek Community Foundation, and Michigan’s Children. He was involved in many efforts across the Battle Creek region throughout his life.
Beyond organizational contributions, perhaps one of Mawby’s greatest contributions was an ability to identify potential in individuals and to empower them. As Mawby said during his interview for the Our State of Generosity project, “You always come down to the basic reality in life, that in the final analysis … only people are important, only people make a difference. Any organization, any institution, is a consequence of the people who are involved in it, and in its creation, and in its ongoing existence.” Many of the prominent leaders in Michigan’s nonprofit sector today developed under the guidance and encouragement of Russ Mawby.
“My description of a leader? A leader is anyone who sees either a problem that needs to be addressed, or an opportunity that ought to be capitalized on, and then does something about it.”
Despite Mawby’s humility, his contributions and tireless efforts have not gone unrecognized. He received 23 honorary degrees from universities across the United States as well as internationally, and he was also named Knight First Class of the Royal Order of St. Olaf in Norway and Knight’s Cross of the Order of Dannebrog First Class in Denmark. In addition, a variety of programs, awards, and scholarships are named in his honor, including the Russ Mawby Regional Signature Service Project at MCSC, the Russell G. Mawby Award for Philanthropy sponsored by CMF and MNA, and the Dr. Russell G. Mawby Fellowship in Philanthropic Studies at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy (a program that Mawby helped design). Within the Battle Creek, Michigan, region, Mawby was also named Scene Magazine’s 2005-2006 Man of the Year. Even this impressive list of accolades only represents a fraction of those he has received.
Russell Mawby passed away on October 20, 2017, at the age of 89.
Video: Watch leaders discuss the leadership of Russell Mawby.