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Chapter 5: Insights

Tackle Big Challenges

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Chapter 5-4

Value all philanthropy.

Michigan’s four infrastructure organizations, particularly the Council of Michigan Foundations, received considerable criticism from the broader philanthropic field for its adherence to the value of serving all of the state.

Wealthier community foundations serving large metropolitan regions nationwide worried that those small Michigan communities would not have the ability or scale to be effective. Over time, the measurement of success for a community foundation changed from scale to “best practices.” A community foundation’s quality is now defined by behavior, leadership, and service – not by its size.

The Michigan infrastructure organizations heard the concerns from others – and then continued to simply do the work to support philanthropy in every part of the state. Community foundations, United Ways, volunteer centers, service-learning schools, small college Campus Compact organizations, and other programs that support volunteering and philanthropy can be found in villages, large cities, rural outposts, as well as in downtown and/or Metro Detroit. For more about the movement to value all philanthropy, see Chapter 1, Value All Philanthropy.

VideoVideo: Leaders discuss the movement to value all philanthropy.


Think globally – act locally.

Increasing and improving philanthropy was addressed at the state level and the stakeholders focused on building infrastructure in Michigan.

The individual components – support of volunteering, growing the next generation of donors and citizens, understanding more about the field – had specific roles in achieving a common large state objective.

The activities to accomplish the state’s goal happened in local communities: through a local volunteer center, a local community foundation, a local United Way, and service-learning grants to local schools. Russ Mawby describes this as the level where “life is lived.” With a clear understanding of the larger statewide goal, the Michigan philanthropic network went to work, empowering local communities to support giving and service.

VideoVideo: Leaders discuss the national and global effects of Michigan’s philanthropy.


Focus on increasing and improving philanthropy.

Michigan leaders focused their work on expanding and improving philanthropy itself in the broadest definition: systems for giving, serving, and taking action intended for the common good.

Specifically, this meant assisting grantmaking foundations and donors in their work; increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the nonprofit charitable sector; and providing structures to support volunteering. The assumption was that, by definition, the organizations of philanthropy (foundations, nonprofits, and volunteers) had a charitable intent and acted to improve the human condition. The core question was – how do we help them do the work better?

The organizing principle for the work was not determined by the missions or priorities of nonprofits, foundations, or volunteers. Rather, the underlying value was that all philanthropy is good for people and communities. Democracy guided the work, regardless of differences that existed among those who served.

Focusing on increasing and improving philanthropy provided a broad umbrella that allowed for a common task to be supported by almost anyone who wanted to work for a better world. This focus made it possible for foundations, nonprofits, and volunteers of widely divergent political perspectives, economic and social experience, religions, race and ethnic backgrounds, geographic locations, and rural/suburban/urban views to work together for a common cause.

In fact, a part of the fun of working in Michigan’s philanthropic community was the opportunity to engage in common tasks (work groups, seminars, committees, grant proposals, etc.) with people from all walks of life and across the geographic spectrum of a large state. People committed to improving the lives of others. They focused on solving problems, rather than winning arguments. When differences of opinion needed to be managed in order to achieve a specific program goal, returning to the common value of “increasing and improving philanthropy” provided a rational place to evaluate options and come to a consensus.

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