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A Time for Philanthropy to Strengthen Our Commitment to Centering Equity

A message from CMF Board Chair and President & CEO of the Hudson-Webber Foundation Melanca Clark and CMF President & CEO Kyle Caldwell

CMF Board Chair and President & CEO of the Hudson-Webber Foundation Melanca Clark and CMF President & CEO Kyle Caldwell

As champions of philanthropy, we believe in the power of giving for the love of humanity—the very definition of our work. This means we seek ways to benefit all, and in CMF’s community of philanthropy, we further devote ourselves to centering our work in equity and racial equity imperatively. This is the tremendous power of our sector as well as the great responsibility we hold in working with partners across Michigan – with nonprofits, government, business and education leaders – to serve our communities.
That is why the most recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court banning race-conscious admissions programs and ending affirmative action in higher education and diluting the legal protections for individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ should be deeply concerning to Michigan philanthropy’s commitment to equity. 
Let’s explore the practical application to our work. With nearly $2.5 billion in grants in 2020-21, education is the top investment area for Michigan philanthropy – including cradle-to-career programs and initiatives, children’s savings accounts, scholarships and much more. We know equal access to a high-quality education — especially post-secondary education — is not available to all, with people of color disproportionately impacted. In Michigan, only 14% of Native American, 18% of Black and 20% of Latinx adults aged 25 or over possess a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 31% of White adults and 66% of Asian adults.

Michigan philanthropy invests in education because we know it is the key to addressing these inequities and unlocking economic prosperity, providing pathways to employment – a critical element to securing stable housing, food security and access to health care. Most importantly, education can disrupt generational poverty and remove systemic racial barriers to opportunity. Ultimately, a strong and inclusive economy requires equitable access to resources and opportunities, especially in education. 
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action threatens to fracture foundational efforts to create equitable opportunities and thriving communities. That is why CMF joined with many of our members and national partners in signing a joint letter outlining the ramifications of the affirmative action decision and how it calls on us all to act with urgency. If your organization is interested in signing the letter, click here.

Michigan has experience with race-neutral admissions with the removal of affirmative action policies in 2006 with Michigan’s Proposal 2. Since then, the University of Michigan alone experienced a 44% drop in Black student enrollment and a 90% reduction in Native American student enrollment, despite efforts to find an alternative solution to the policy or more equitable recruitment measures.
Our higher education institutions and organizations at all levels should be representative of the diversity within our communities not only to empower individuals but for shared learning, growth and shared prosperity across Michigan and our country. We all benefit from diverse perspectives – especially within our university and college campuses. 

This is a critical turning point for the embrace of diversity and equitable systems for the people we are today and for the people we will be tomorrow. New research published by Altarum and Citizens Research Council, with the support of many CMF members and managed by the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison, shows that our state is growing in racial and ethnic diversity. In fact, data shows that by 2050, 40% of the working-age population will be people of color. 

Population data also provides critical insights on the potential impact of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows businesses the right to refuse service to individuals of a protected class and has significant ramifications for protections for LGBTQ+ populations. The U.S. Census Bureau data shows that same-sex couple households exceeded 1 million nationally in 2021. In Michigan, that growth has included more than 27,000 households, 56% of which included married couples. In our pluralistic, diverse and accepting philanthropic community, by putting equity at the center, we can fully support members of the LGBTQ+ community and welcome differences across religious beliefs and faiths. 

For Michigan to be a welcoming state, an economic engine and a desirable place to live, work and play, we must lean into the many roles philanthropy can play that bring people together across divides, reimagine policy and work in collaboration with community to create better, equity-centered solutions.
CMF’s mission is to lead, strengthen and support Michigan philanthropy – you and your peers around the state. We remain committed to our focus on the people, policies and practices in our field in the pursuit of equitable systems and inclusive diversity. As shared in our policy domains, CMF supports policies, programs and partnerships that address structural and systemic barriers to economic opportunity and help ensure economic prosperity is accessible to all Michiganders. CMF is here to help our members understand and respond in the wake of these recent challenges and those yet to come.

Opportunities for Members

CMF is working to provide resources and learning opportunities to explore some key questions you may be navigating. We hope to support your discussions and planning for both your timely and long-term equity-centered grantmaking and leadership. 

Why should my organization be concerned? 

Education is the largest investment Michigan foundations make on an annual basis. Michigan philanthropy shares the goal of a diverse and vibrant community where all may thrive. There is an opportunity for staff, trustees and nonprofit partners to develop a shared understanding of the issues. Philanthropy centered on equity requires ongoing dialogue and data gathering to understand the impact of policy changes like these recent court decisions. We must continue, with urgency, to not only stand up to inequities, especially racism and discrimination but work to dismantle them. When we create more inclusive and accessible systems for all, everyone benefits.  

How will these decisions impact my grantmaking, scholarships and outreach efforts?  

The current decisions apply to higher education institutions and not to grantmaking entities. We are currently developing programming to connect you with legal expertise, best practices and more as we join our nonprofit partners and other leaders in collectively navigating the impacts of these decisions on education and equity. 

CMF members supporting scholarship funds can work with donors and their own criteria to determine if there are unique ways to target scholarships toward developing greater access to post-secondary education opportunities for historically marginalized populations that affirmative action policies were intended to serve. 

Grantmakers can examine how they can best support LGBTQ+ organizations and seek ways to engage donors interested in LGBTQ+ rights. You and your organization can also examine your governance policies, trustee and staff recruitment efforts and internal education opportunities to be sure that your grantmaking is informed by lived experience.

Are there other ways CMF members can advocate and engage in continuous learning? 

This fall, CMF Experts in Residence Dr. Brittany Kienker and Jennifer Oertel are leading a Midwest webinar with Michigan foundations along with peer organizations in Ohio and Indiana focusing on scholarships and how philanthropy can better support the communities it serves through its scholarship programs. Registration is open now.  

Also, look for upcoming announcements on the CMF Equity Signature Series, curated equity resources and timely briefings and updates. 

CMF recognizes that our community of philanthropy is diverse, with a wide range of views and perspectives. To center our work in equity, we must understand the impact of policy changes on the populations most adversely impacted, as solutions to these inequities can be beneficial to all.  

We welcome an opportunity to hear from you about the current and emerging needs you’re facing and how we can best support you and your organization. We also invite you to share any efforts your organization may be leading with the CMF team.

Thank you for your leadership and enduring commitment to the communities you serve. 


Melanca Clark 

CMF Board Chair


Kyle Caldwell

President & CEO

Council of Michigan Foundations