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Celebrating 100 Years and Listening to Community, with Humility and a Shared Vision

Together with its partners, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation (GRCF) is working toward a renewed West Michigan with a deeper, more sustainable commitment to racial, social and economic justice. Diana Sieger, President of GRCF, shares how they are engaging with community partners in new ways. 

Diana Sieger, Grand Rapids Community Foundation

CMF Community Voices

CMF Community Voices features a series of conversations and insights from leaders across our community of philanthropy. This curated collection of blogs and Q&As lifts up inspiring voices from changemakers providing reflections in the areas of Equity, People, Practice and Policy, with equity at the center.

Celebrating 100 Years and Listening to Community, with Humility and a Shared Vision

By Diana R. Sieger, President, Grand Rapids Community Foundation

For Grand Rapids Community Foundation, 2022 has been a year to reflect on our history, impact, growth and learning over the last century. We're proud to be Michigan's oldest community foundation!

Today, together with our partners, the community foundation is working toward a renewed West Michigan with a deeper, more sustainable commitment to racial, social and economic justice. Our approach is rooted in our position as the community’s foundation: Created to be an open resource and partner to everyone.

While this milestone year commemorates a century of responding to the everchanging needs of Greater Grand Rapids, it also marks the beginning of a new century of service and impact in our community. We are kicking that new century off by engaging with community partners in new ways. The lessons we’ve learned over the last century have evolved our approach and sharpened our focus. One lesson that stands out is that the people closest to the pain are also closest to the solution. It’s not completely new—we’ve collaborated with many individuals, groups and institutions over the years—but lately, this belief has informed how we provide support and with whom we partner.

Being community-led and listening to community members in a variety of ways to inform our work is an important lesson that allows us to adapt to the most pressing needs in Kent County. Recently, the community foundation embarked on several projects to invite feedback. I want to share one example born from a desire to acknowledge harm and begin to repair relationships with historically excluded communities and another invitation to our community that is broad reaching.

Before reaching out to community and asking for donations or thought partnership in return, some of our volunteer-led fund committees began to model the trust required for a reciprocal relationship between funders and the broader nonprofit ecosystem. Our Black Legacy Fund, established in 2006, and Somos Comunidad Fund, more recently founded in 2022, awarded what we called “relationship grants” to 40 local organizations. Of those, 18 were new grant partners. Proactively awarding grants, with no application process or reporting requirements and to some organizations that do not have 501(c)3 status, was new for the community foundation.

While the $126,000 awarded by Our Black Legacy and Somos Comunidad Funds cannot erase a history of disinvestment, the committees felt it was important to demonstrate gratitude and offer something to organizations led by and serving Black and Latinx communities before engaging in community listening. Then, these committees and Our LGBTQ Fund, another fund with a volunteer-led committee, intentionally engaged with communities through feedback sessions to inform their grantmaking structures and policies moving forward.

The community foundation belongs to the community. Our community-led funds demonstrate that and are helping us build a more inclusive philanthropic culture and practice in Greater Grand Rapids. We are also taking broad approaches to invite input from Kent County residents. Throughout our centennial year, we have asked our partners and community to submit 100-second videos about their aspirations. We hope these contributions will help us understand our community’s collective vision for the future and inform our work in our next century of service and impact. One that is informed by the people who live, work, play and love here. The portal for casting vision statements is open through the end of 2022, but the posture of openness and receptivity is a practice we are cementing into our framework.

We know that we must work together to reinvest and reimagine how we move into our collective future, so everyone who calls Kent County home has safety, opportunity, prosperity and a true sense of belonging. One of the themes from our engagement sessions was “We Love Our Community and We’re Hopeful.” While there are many challenges and barriers that community members expressed throughout their conversations, one thing that stands out is that people care about this community - their family, friends, neighbors and neighborhoods - and all want to see them thrive and flourish.

The community foundation is celebrating our 100-year history and humbly looking to the future, knowing that we will not always get it right, but hoping that community will join us and hold us accountable toward our vision of a more equitable West Michigan.

CMF is grateful for Diana's leadership serving on the 2022 Annual Conference Host Committee and as Co-Chair of the Statewide Equity Fund Strategic Support Pilot Working Group.

As we kick off our year-long future-focused 50th anniversary celebration, we will be showcasing many installments of CMF Community Voices throughout 2023.