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Chapter 1: Servant Leadership

Ethics and Values

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Pragmatism in Michigan’s drive to build a strong independent sector was informed by at least four related philosophical perspectives:

  1. Servant leadership;
  2. Rushworth Kidder and the Institute for Global Ethics;
  3. Michael Josephson and the Josephson Center for the Advancement of Ethics; and
  4. The work on love and forgiveness of the Fetzer Institute.

Kidder founded the Institute for Global Ethics in 1990 to “promote ethical action in a global context.” Through their work with foundations, the institute influenced the thinking and behavior of some of Michigan’s most central statewide leaders. The institute’s values’ statement summarizes the principles they identified as “universal.”

The guiding principles for the Institute for Global Ethics effectively capture the essence of common human values:

Global EthicsThrough our research, we have identified five core ethical values that show up in any human culture, regardless of race, age, religious affiliation, gender, or nationality. As such, we strive always to be:

Excerpt from “About the Institute for Global Ethics.” Institute for Global Ethics. n.p., 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. 

In the late 1990s, the institute received grant support from the Charles Stewart Mott and W.K. Kellogg Foundations, among other national foundations, to conduct a Global Values Survey and provide insight on shared values and moral boundaries. The Council of Michigan Foundations also partnered with the institute to offer Ethical Fitness® Seminars at organizational conferences.

These principles were internalized and used as informal standards of behavior for many in the sector. While humans are not perfect, a tone reflective of these aspirational values was set by leaders and passed on to subsequent generations of nonprofit and foundation practitioners.

Video   Video: Russ Mawby discusses Common Human Values.


Michael Josephson, keynote speaker at the 1989 17th Annual Conference of the Council of Michigan Foundations, founded the Josephson Institute in 1987 with the mission to “improve the ethical quality of society by changing personal and organizational decision making and behavior.”

Historical_DocsHistorical Document: Program for the 1989 annual conference.

Josephson had a particular interest in the developing ethical values and behaviors of young people and was intrigued by the Michigan Community Foundations’ Youth Project and its trust in providing youth with significant grantmaking dollars.


The Fetzer Institute, a member of CMF, is an operating foundation that supports projects and individuals who advance their mission of love and forgiveness. An operating foundation is a specialized subset of the grantmaking foundation community that does not accept grant proposals from the general public, but directly selects individuals and charitable grantees to accomplish work they have determined they would like to have done.

For example, the Fetzer Institute brought together a working group of poets and humanists who spent several years examining the myths, legends, and children’s folk tales that describe philanthropy. These resources were combined into a guidebook and a discussion agenda to be used by others interested in philanthropy. The myths, legends, and folk tales, along with the discussion guides, were then given to Learning to Give as a resource for teaching philanthropy in the classroom from a worldwide perspective. This philosophy was translated into Fetzer’s mission statement at the time:

The Fetzer Institute advances love and forgiveness as powerful forces that can transform the human condition.

The foundation formed in 1954, and major funding began in the early 1990s, after John Fetzer’s holdings in broadcasting enterprises and the Detroit Tigers baseball team were sold. For many years, the Fetzer Institute, through its “Heart of Philanthropy” program, had special discussions with Michigan program officers and other leaders of foundations and nonprofits in a retreat setting conducive to deeper contemplation about the nature of their work. Fetzer leaders offered workshops and seminars at the CMF annual conferences, and introduced Michigan foundation leaders to the ideas of love, forgiveness, and “mindfulness” as a part of the foundation staff members’ work.

VideoVideo: Diana Sieger discusses the relationship between love and philanthropy.


At some level, these conversations appeared to have influenced an understanding of philanthropy and the nature of the work of “loving humankind.”

One is struck by how different these concerns are from the focus in 2015 on nonprofits as businesses, hybrid nonprofit-business organizations, delivering on short-term metrics, and on highly quantifiable outcomes. In 2015, nonprofits and foundations adopted the language of business regarding marketing, positioning, branding, business plans, return on investment, and immediate outcome measures. The focus on immediate measurable and economic outcomes using business constructs is quite different from the nature of philanthropy in Michigan during the years of the building of philanthropic resources for the state.

VideoVideo: Leaders discuss the balance between giving and the business model.


During the period of the growth and maturation of Michigan’s philanthropic infrastructure, there was considerable conversation about ethics and values, far more so than business practices or profit.

Actions are more easily observed than intentions or ethics. While it is difficult to prove the influence of these leading moral and ethical thinkers on the actions of the Michigan philanthropic community, it is fair to say there was significant interaction among individuals and their organizations leading the research and reflection on ethics – as well as the grantmaking and nonprofit fields in the state. Many of these values were then reflected in the “on the ground” actions of the state’s philanthropic leaders.

These actions included, for example:

These and other projects may not be considered good business decisions but have proved to be excellent philanthropy decisions that made a difference for Michigan and across the globe.

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