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Championing Policy, Empowering Youth & Innovative Partnerships: A Conversation with Rob Collier

CMF's immediate past president and CEO Rob Collier shares his reflections on the storied history of our CMF community and some of the work he has been most passionate about, from public policy to empowering youth leaders.

Rob Collier, immediate past president and CEO of CMF.


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.

Championing Policy, Empowering Youth & Innovative Partnerships: A Conversation with Rob Collier

Rob Collier, the immediate past president and CEO of CMF, who began his career as a program officer at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation in 1976, spent over 45 years of dedicated service engaging in public policy, leading CMF’s efforts in providing nonpartisan research for the field, advocating for preserving our state’s most beloved natural resources and serving as a long-time champion for youth philanthropy.

We sat down with Collier during the CMF 50th Annual Conference in Grand Rapids to hear his reflections on the storied history of our CMF community and some of the work he has been most passionate about, from public policy to empowering youth leaders.

CMF members engage in meetings with policymakers during Foundations on the Hill 2023.
Collier joins CMF members engaging with policymakers during Foundations on the Hill 2023.

Collier recently attended Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) with CMF members and staff in Washington, D.C., a continuation of his dedicated service leading CMF’s public policy efforts over his 23-year tenure at CMF. Collier began his engagement with policymakers on the Hill in 1982 when FOTH was known as the Regional Association of Grantmakers on the Hill. 

“At the national level, Dottie Johnson started, I continued, and Kyle now continues our engagement in Foundations on the Hill (FOTH), informing our congressional delegation about public-private partnerships that we were developing in Michigan with an impact on Washington. That’s really important, and there were several key legislative and policy changes that CMF was able to help implement as a result,” Collier shared.  

Under Collier’s leadership, CMF advocated for many important policies, including simplifying the excise tax for private foundations and the creation of the IRA Charitable Rollover, to name a few.

“The research and policy work that CMF continues to lead is so important,” Collier said. “I am excited for our ongoing opportunities to connect with our policymakers in Washington and in Lansing. I think we have a good shot at restoring the charitable tax credit in Michigan, among other things.”

Upon Collier’s “graduation” as CEO in 2018, CMF established the Robert S. Collier Public Policy Endowment Fund to honor his legacy and support public policy work in Lansing and Washington as it aligns with CMF's Government Relations and public policy goals, addressing critical policy issues facing the field of philanthropy and our Michigan communities.

Collier was also leading CMF when CMF members came to him with an idea to establish a nonpartisan office within the executive office of the governor, the Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL).

“This was about providing an important connection and an important source of research and information that could help her (Governor Granholm’s) staff, could work with her staff and really advance bipartisan issues in our state. And that's what we've been able to do,” Collier said. “The fact that we've been able to continue in a bipartisan way, I think I'm very proud of that. Karen Aldridge-Eason and her colleagues running the OFL have really been able to bring philanthropy to Lansing in a neutral, nonpartisan way.”

In April, OFL will celebrate 20 years of brokering innovative funding partnerships and strategic collaborations between the executive branch of state government and philanthropy.

Critical partnerships that continue today also include Michigan Community Foundations Youth Project (MCFYP) and Learning to Give (LTG), where Collier’s engagement and support helped to create global connections, host international youth philanthropy groups and engage in partnerships abroad.

“Through the MCFYP Youth Grantmakers Summer Leadership Conferences, seven different countries around the world have brought people to Michigan to learn about youth philanthropy,” Collier said. “I was surprised, even though I was retired, Helen Li in Shanghai told me, ‘My three visits to Michigan have paid off. We're now going to Zoom you in for the first awards by our Youth Grantmaking Committee in Shanghai, China.’” 

2022 Youth Grantmakers Summer Leadership Conference.
2022 Youth Grantmakers Summer Leadership Conference

Collier said he’s deeply inspired by the work youth leaders are engaging in across the state, from addressing food systems to climate change and beyond.

“Many times, when youth communities would say, ‘well, we don't have a lot of financial resources.’ And I'd say, 'you know, it's not the money that counts. It's your energy, your passion, and your desire to make an impact.' It’s so exciting to see that alumni from our community foundation youth advisory committees are making an impact as leaders of nonprofits, staffed policymakers and engaged philanthropists, working to make a difference in our state,” Collier said.

Beyond serving as a mentor to many, he’s also been a dedicated advocate for our Great Lakes.

Collier created the Great Lakes Community Foundation Environmental Collaborative with support from the Great Lakes Protection Fund (GLPF), the first-ever network of community foundation environmental programs in Great Lakes coastal cities, which launched a national movement of similar efforts.

The GLPF honored Collier in 2021 with their leadership award as a trailblazer driving change to improve the health of our Great Lakes.

Collier continues to be deeply engaged in our CMF community as a member through his and his wife Diane’s donor advised fund (DAF) at Shiawassee Community Foundation and as a trustee of CMF member the Michigan Municipal League Foundation.

“Three things inspire me the most about the history of CMF. One is the sense of community we have in Michigan and the fact that we have folks who really come together and, you know, they're willing to partner. And I think the second thing is the public-private partnerships that we've been able to build with government and with the business sector. Third, both of these have contributed to our state having a really strong and vibrant nonprofit sector that employs one in 10 Michiganders,” Collier said.