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A Role Model for Social Justice Giving in Michigan?

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The Kresge Foundation was the second largest donor to Detroit's "Grand Bargain." Credit: James/Flickr
The Kresge Foundation was the second largest donor to Detroit's "Grand Bargain." Credit: James/Flickr
October 28, 2015

DETROIT - A vital player in Detroit's "Grand Bargain," as well as other projects in Michigan, is poised to become the next great social-justice funder, according to the findings of a report released today.

The Philamplify initiative assessed the Kresge Foundation, and principal report researcher Elizabeth Myrick said that unlike many grantmakers, Kresge doesn't always make an easy bet with its grant dollars. In 2006, she said, the foundation shifted its strategy and embraced risk in its commitment to give the most vulnerable populations a better place to live.

"Often, foundations aren't willing or don't believe it's possible to make such a dramatic shift in how they do their work, and Kresge sort of belies that," she said. "Kresge says, 'You know, you're never too old, you're never too set in your ways to really decide to do things entirely differently.' "

Kresge was the second largest donor to the "Grand Bargain," that helped pull Detroit out of bankruptcy in 2014 and saved the Institute of the Arts. By engaging underserved communities as it addresses poverty, health, education and climate resilience, the report found, the foundation meets and exceeds most criteria for effective social-justice philanthropy. According to the report, Kresge awarded more than $242 million in grants across Michigan and other states in 2014.

Kresge is a part of Michigan's large philanthropic community which includes Ford, Kellogg and other, smaller community foundations working to build strong, resilient communities. To make the most difference, Myrick said, foundations need to have open and honest conversations with nonprofits, leaders, residents and other stakeholders.

"You can see with the 'Grand Bargain' that philanthropy can make a huge difference in shifting the tides in a community," she said, "and opening up that dialogue is just critically important because your life is being affected by the decisions and choices that a foundation makes."

Philamplify, part of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, provides grantmakers feedback to help them maximize their impact. The report recommended that Kresge incorporate racial equity more explicitly in all of its works, and specifically in Detroit, prioritize collaboration with neighborhoods and nontraditional leaders.

The report is online at

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI