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Project Profile:

Increasing and Improving Philanthropy

A Project of the Council of Michigan Foundations


Project Timeline:

January 1986 to January 1999

Locations Impacted:

State of Michigan

Collaborating Organizations

The Council of Michigan Foundations‘ (CMF) commitment to increase and improve philanthropy in Michigan resulted in numerous initiatives and the development of critical philanthropic support institutions. The many significant outcomes from this effort included the creation, launch, and now ongoing partnership with the other three organizations highlighted by Our State of Generosity – the Michigan Nonprofit Association, the Michigan Community Service Commission, and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.

About the Project

While discussed as two separate projects, the Increasing Philanthropy and the Improving Philanthropy efforts operated more like one committee. The new committees were chaired by Dr. Russell G. Mawby (Profile) who had recently rotated off the CMF Board and moved to the role of chairman of the newly established CMF Advisory Cabinet. Staff support was provided by Linda Patterson. The committees focused on addressing CMF’s mission of “increasing private and community foundation and corporate grantmaking resources in the state of Michigan.”

About Increasing and Improving Philanthropy

While there were many projects rooted in the work of increasing and improving philanthropy, the following products are of particular note.

Establishing a Charitable Foundation in Michigan, by Duane Tarnacki, is a comprehensive guidebook to the laws and regulations on forming a foundation, continues to be a classic resource for individuals interested in creating a grantmaking foundation in the state of Michigan. Under revision in 2015, the guide has been regularly updated and continues to provide sound guidance to individuals, families, companies and communities with the desire to create a private foundation or a donor-advised fund at a community foundation.

Analysis of the decision-making process involved in creating a foundation led to a novel partnership between The Philanthropic Initiative of Boston and CMF. At the heart of the project was research, through interviews and small group discussions, regarding how individuals and families decide to form a foundation. One insight was the key role played by financial and legal advisors – accountants, bankers, investment advisors, insurance agents, estate planning attorneys, and similar professionals who work closely and confidentially with families of means. Further investigation revealed that many of these advisors were reluctant to, or uninformed about, raising the opportunity for funding a foundation (or fund within a community foundation) with their clients. The Increasing and Improving Philanthropy Committee used these insights to create educational programming, sample client resources, and other strategies to engage financial advisors in asking their clients about their charitable interests.

In addition, special targeted educational programs and resources were created to meet the specific needs of family foundations, corporate foundations and organized giving programs, and community foundations. The Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project emerged at the same time as the work of the committees, providing the vehicle for increasing and improving philanthropy through community foundations.

Additional ideas that germinated from the committee and grew into major initiatives and/or organizations included:

The critical lesson from the Increasing and Improving Philanthropy Initiative was the importance of identifying a significant statewide goal, then engaging various stakeholder groups to create and implement programs to achieve the common aspiration for the state of Michigan.

Funds Raised/Distributed:

Due to the number of projects, the duration of their implementation, the complexity of their “ripple” effects, and the multiple donors (for example, donors to the numerous challenge grants involved), it is impossible to estimate the overall financial investment involved in focusing on increasing and improving philanthropy. Nor would a number, if it could be identified, be helpful to others who might wish to modify or replicate one of the projects. While several million dollars have been invested over the course of almost three decades, similar projects on a smaller level are entirely feasible.

Key Accomplishments/Outcomes:

Over the course of almost 30 years, Michigan’s philanthropic landscape was changed forever. Audacious goals were reached, and permanent organizations developed for statewide initiatives. Giving, serving, and advocacy were promoted through the creation of new programs, partnerships, and organizations. The amount of giving and volunteering has increased, and the operations of nonprofits and foundations have improved.

VideoVideo: Watch leaders discuss the Increasing and Improving Philanthropy Initiative:



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This profile was last updated: 01/14/2015