Steve Wilson


Chief Transformation Officer/Senior Advisor
[email protected]

For the last several months, Steve Wilson has been serving as a consultant for CMF and senior advisor to the president. He has supported strategic planning, development of our 2020 Annual Conference, work with the Great Lakes One Water (GLOW) partnership and more.   

Effective today, Steve has been appointed to a new role in the CMF structure: Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) and senior advisor. He will provide leadership in implementing our plans for organizational reinvention, advancing development of our organizational culture, structure and business model within the new framework developed through our strategic planning process. This is a full-time role but a temporary one, as the role of CTO will be in effect for the duration of our transformation process, with a maximum of three years. 

He brings decades of leadership in strategic philanthropy, community engagement, programming, partnerships and team building, including most recently serving as president of two CMF member foundations, the Frey Foundation (2011-2018) and the Ruth Mott Foundation (2008-2011). He also spent 15 years as president of the Grand Rapids / Kent County Visitors and Convention Bureau (now “Experience GR”) during a period of tremendous growth and transition for the city. 

We sat down with Steve to learn more about his background and his plans as CTO for CMF: 

What is the “transformation” process that CMF is undertaking?
“Organizational change is a journey. More often than not, it unfolds slowly and gradually, involving new pathways, new approaches and new priorities. CMF is in the midst of a transformative journey that embraces a new style of leadership as we step into the third decade of the 21st century. The CMF board selected Kyle Caldwell as CEO because he’s a change agent and a thought leader for a new generation of Michigan philanthropy. He’s been empowered to bring transformative change, advancing CMF’s legacy as a leading infrastructure support organization for the field. My specific role, as a senior advisor to Kyle, will be to work with the CMF board, staff and members as we begin to articulate new plans, new strategies and priorities for CMF programs and operations. My goal is to make the most of this time of transformation to achieve greater organizational performance and higher levels of engagement with members, make diversity, equity and inclusion a core organizational value and develop a realigned business model to provide needed support for CMF’s essential programs.”

What are some of the projects and initiatives you will be leading?
“My top priority is to realign CMF’s revenue engine. We need new and diverse sources of general operating funds to support core programs. I will also be engaged in the strategic planning that is just beginning, along with advancing CMF’s work in diversity, equity and inclusion, with a new visioning and training program.”

Why is this a temporary, time-limited role?
“I have a lot of experience to share at this point in my career and professional life. When I first met with Kyle about the prospect of coming to work for CMF, I told him I would take on this new role only if I could work myself out of a job. By that I mean my experience, insights and perspectives will be most helpful up front in the transformation process. Kyle has empowered a talented Leadership Team to guide the work of the staff. Over time this team will strengthen and work together more cohesively as we learn from one another, collaborating with the board to develop new strategic imperatives, priorities and programs. I think it will be clear to all when my work is complete as CMF transitions and transforms. I look fondly upon the highly effective teams now leading the Frey and Ruth Mott Foundations and Experience Grand Rapids, knowing I played a role in their development. I’m sure I’ll do the same at CMF two or three years from now.”

How might your experience working in economic development apply to your role as CTO for CMF?
“I’ve worked closely with communities throughout Michigan to foster community growth and change to open up new and greater opportunities for all residents. My early career was focused on building a ‘community resume’ of assets to make Michigan more competitive in attracting employers and new sources of investment, jobs and revenues. My latter career has been focused on philanthropic responses to the most pressing needs of community residents: education, early care for children, affordable housing and the environment. Over time I’ve come to value the power of utilizing solid data, systemic approaches and—above all—an engagement process that listens to the wisdom of residents to chart a course for community growth and change. CMF represents foundations engaged in the work of fostering healthy, equitable change in Michigan cities and rural areas, so I see my new role at CMF to be a natural extension of the work I’ve been engaged in for many years.