November 15 is a special observance in the nonprofit world.
National Philanthropy Day is the day we set aside to reflect on what can happen when donors, nonprofits, and community partners come together to make our world a better place. This special day is part of National Community Foundation Week, running from November 12 to 18, a time when community foundations across the country re-introduce themselves to their respective communities and encourage others to join them in creative lasting change.
For nearly four decades, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has been at the forefront of driving transformative change in our community. It’s heartening to reflect on the milestones we have achieved and the lives we have touched over the years. Our commitment extends across a diverse range of causes, from addressing health inequities to fostering economic development and advocating for justice reform.
The impact of community foundations is not limited to our region alone. Across the United States, more than 800 community foundations play a pivotal role in fostering positive change. Here in Michigan, approximately 60 community foundations work to address the unique needs of their communities. I am proud to share that the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan ranks among the top 25 community foundations in the country, a testament to our collective dedication and the trust bestowed upon us by our community.
But what exactly do community foundations do?
Community foundations act as catalysts for change, bringing together like-minded individuals and organizations to address the most pressing issues facing our community. By leveraging the generosity of donors and cultivating endowment, we create a platform for impactful philanthropy, ensuring that resources are directed toward projects and programs that meet the needs and challenges of the communities they serve in perpetuity.
A key strength of community foundations lies in our ability to collaborate. We bridge the gap between donors and local nonprofits, facilitating partnerships that drive meaningful and sustainable solutions. This collaborative approach enables donors to make the difference they want to see, nonprofit leaders to focus on their work, and enables us to tackle complex challenges holistically, creating a ripple effect that benefits individuals and communities for years to come.
The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is proud to be a driving force behind initiatives that have touched lives and transformed our community. One way we assist nonprofit organizations is by utilizing agency endowments. Over 230 local nonprofits receive annual grants for essential general operating support through their endowment with us. Additionally, we offer field of interest funds, providing donors with the opportunity to engage and contribute to causes that hold significance for them.
An illustrative example is the Ann and Carmen Adams Fund, established in 1996 to champion entrepreneurs and small businesses. Although established by the Adams, this fund evolved to become what we call a “Field of Interest” fund dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship in the region that can accept contributions from anyone who interested in that field. Grants from this fund have been instrumental in supporting initiatives such as Venture for America, a program that establishes pathways for young individuals interested in entrepreneurship within Detroit businesses.
Let’s do some community foundation math – this fund has had $6 million contributed to it since 1996. Out of this same fund, some $6 million has been granted to projects across the region. Today, the fund has a balance of a little over $6 million and will continue making an impact for generations to come. This demonstrates the power of endowment coupled with philanthropists wanting to make a difference in their community.
All you need to be a philanthropist is the desire to help your neighbor
Another story we like to share is that of a lesser-known philanthropist named Eugene Howe. In the heart of Detroit, Howe quietly made a significant impact on his community. Living modestly in the Cass Corridor from the ’70s to the ’90s, Howe, with his ragged appearance, frequented local soup kitchens, churches, and shelters.
Surprisingly, Howe wasn’t seeking help; instead, he had a clear vision to help homeless individuals rebuild their lives. In the late 1980s, he approached the Community Foundation with ambitious plans. He explained to Community Foundation staff that he was working with a lawyer and he wanted to “start a fund like Mr. Rockefeller.”
Upon Howe’s passing in 1992 at the age of 74, it was revealed that he had left a six-figure gift to the Community Foundation as part of his estate. The Eugene A. Howe Endowment Fund was established per his wishes, becoming a permanent endowed fund. His legacy has been instrumental in assisting countless homeless individuals in metro Detroit to achieve self-sufficiency and contribute positively to society.
The story serves as a reminder that impactful philanthropy isn’t exclusive to the well-known names in philanthropy. You can read the full and inspiring tale of Eugene Howe here.
Whether it’s supporting innovative health programs, helping people who are homeless and hungry, promoting economic opportunities, or advocating for justice reform, our commitment to making a positive impact remains unwavering.
On National Philanthropy Day, I extend my deepest gratitude to the donors, nonprofits, and community partners who have joined us on this remarkable journey. Together, we have made a difference, and together, we will continue to shape a brighter and more equitable future for all.
Thank you for being a part of our community foundation family.