The Download

The Download

August 30, 2021

Monday, August 30, 2021

New Proposals from State Aim to Invest in Communities

Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently announced a package of 22 proposed investments designed to support Michigan’s workers, small businesses and communities.

The proposed investments total $2.1 billion in funding to educate workers and grow the middle class, support small businesses and create better jobs and invest in Michigan communities.  

"As we emerge from the once-in-a-century pandemic, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use billions in federal resources to grow Michigan's middle class, support small businesses, and invest in our communities. With the $2.1 billion in proposals I have laid out, we can raise wages, give people paths to high-skill jobs, grow start-ups, build clean energy infrastructure, and do so much more. I'm utilizing every resource and ensuring that we continue to take bold action to help families, communities and small businesses thrive. Together, we can usher in new era of prosperity for Michigan," Whitmer said in a press release.

The proposal development included stakeholder outreach and feedback and over the weeks and months ahead the executive office will continue to improve and refine the proposals for movement through the legislature.

The proposal references the Michigan Nonprofit Relief and Activation Program which recommends investing $50 million in providing financial relief and assistance to strengthen the nonprofit ecosystem. 

The fund would ask nonprofits to submit grant applications sharing how funding would allow them to continue or expand programming in the areas of housing, child care, broadband access and other workforce barrier elimination efforts. Our partners at the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) have been working to ensure the inclusion of this program.

The governor is calling for the expansion of Michigan Reconnect and Future for Frontliners, investments to growing the pipeline of talented workers to industry, a $100 million influx for the Going Pro credential program and further investments in programs that offer work experience to Michiganders earning their GEDs and that help individuals leaving the criminal justice system transition into the workforce.  

According to the press release, to support small business and create better jobs the governor is building on her Michigan Mainstreet Initiative which offers grants to restaurants, place-based businesses and microenterprises with further dollars to attract more start-ups. 

This afternoon, Kyle Caldwell, CMF president and CEO and Quentin L. Messer, Jr., CEO of Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), will engage in a conversation on the equitable recovery of small and micro-businesses. We invite you to register and join the event to learn more about MEDC’s approach to equitable economic growth through robust partner relationships. 

CMF’s Government Relations Public Policy team is thoroughly reviewing the governor’s proposed investments and encourages you to connect with them if you have any questions. 

Want more? 

Read the full press release. 



Leadership in Rural Philanthropy and Beyond

After a decade of dedicated service to Newaygo County and the surrounding region, Carla Roberts, president and CEO of Fremont Area Community Foundation (FACF) is retiring in October.

CMF sat down with Roberts to learn more about her experiences as a leader in Michigan philanthropy and the evolution of the community foundation.

During her tenure, the community foundation moved towards strategic grantmaking to reach FACF’s goals. FACFs focus areas include increasing postsecondary education levels, reducing poverty and enhancing median income while maintaining unemployment at or below the national average. 

“All of those things are about economic mobility and creating an environment where people can prosper and move forward. We’ve been very intentional about our grantmaking and increasingly becoming more strategic over the last 10 years,” Roberts said. 

One outcome of the community foundation’s more strategic approach was higher levels of understanding and engagement from donors. 

“When I arrived, the trustees indicated that they wanted to enhance our impact in the community,” said Roberts. “In our most recent donor perception report conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), 43 percent of our donors responded to the survey—a fantastic response rate. Our foundation also ranked highest in the CEP database of 80 foundations across the country for how our donors ranked our visibility and impact in the community. That tells me our work is making a difference. I’m proud of the efforts and relationships that have led us to this point.”

Roberts was deeply engaged with CMF through her role as one of the inaugural co-chairs for the Rural Philanthropy Affinity Group (RPAG), helping to set the vision and goals for the group and encouraging other rural foundation members to engage in that space.  

She also planned and even hosted one of the RPAG meetings to ensure members had access to learning from experts and the opportunity to engage with their peers.

Roberts has always been an insightful leader, helping to inspire and support other CMF members especially her community foundation peers. She is a nationally recognized expert on community foundations, leadership and rural matters. 

In the last 10 year under Roberts’ leadership, FACF has almost doubled their assets.

“That is substantial growth especially in an area like ours that does not have a high degree of individuals with a higher net worth. We’ve taken the tools that we already had in place and brought them to the forefront in new ways,” Roberts said.

Roberts shared that one of the greatest impacts she has seen hasn’t come from dollars but from the convening role of community foundations. 

“We’ve really capitalized upon that tool to move forward on the strategic goals by bringing people together. Our community has done things like create a college access network where there wasn’t one before, changing the tenor of local conversations from not whether a young person should be pursuing a post-secondary education but how they are going to do it,” Roberts said. 

Roberts shared several other initiatives in education, tourism and small business support that came as a result of their convening efforts.

“A lot of these things were not in place and it came about by bringing people together and talking about what the issues were, what the potential solutions were and helping them where we needed to step in and help them,” Roberts said. 

FACF was featured in CMF's 2019 Rural Philanthropy Video Series for their impact investing work to support small businesses. 

Over the years, the community foundation has grounded their work in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). FACF took the lead on hosting critical community conversations in Newaygo County through their Stronger Together Series.

These events aimed to create a safe space for honest conversations about identity, difference and belonging in the community. 

CMF’s Impact Connected Series highlighted the conversations hosted by Roberts through FACFs Stronger Together Series. FACF partnered with the Michigan Humanities Council to host “Beautifully Different,” the first event of the series. 

During the conversation, authors from Newaygo County reflected on their experiences growing up in the community as Black and white men. 

“I think we’ve learned that patience and tenacity are two of the key things that we have to bring to the table when we want to engage in DEI work,” Roberts said. “Newaygo County is predominantly white, it doesn’t work well to just start talking about diversity and inclusion, in a lot of ways you have to help people have experiences.”

One of the first things FACF did on their DEI journey, Roberts shared, was to ensure that there was more diversity among trustees and staff. 

Roberts said that FACF’s path to greater inclusion has been slow but tenacious. 

“We’ve found that as we’ve stepped into this space that we’re attracting others who are also working in this space and they have been helping show us the way. Right now, it just feels like we’ve laid the groundwork and we’re just getting started,” Roberts said. 

One of the key aspects of the DEI journey Roberts wants others to consider is that diversity is an economic driver and can lead to positive economic impact upon communities. 

Roberts shared that the evolution of FACF has been a process of constant and continuous improvement. 

“Nothing is going to stay the same but we have a trajectory. That’s what I love about community foundations, the work is never the same,” Roberts said. 

Roberts’ hope is that the community foundation continues with this growth and development that FACF has started in all areas from asset development to systemic change. 

“Our mission is to improve the quality of life in Newaygo County and we have concluded that that has to do with having a viable nonprofit sector that includes government and all the nonprofit entities, having a viable economy and ensuring wellbeing across all socioeconomic levels,” Roberts said. 

As Roberts prepares to leave the community foundation, she has some advice for new and emerging leaders in the sector. 

“Do what you love because when you’re doing what you love it isn’t work. Sometimes when you do what you love it becomes work. If you do it for a long period of time you can get burned out; however, there are infinite possibilities of reinventing yourself and philanthropy has so many places that you can do that,” Roberts said. 

Roberts will retire from FACF on October 1. 

“Many people asked me when I came here, why in the world would you want to leave Arizona and move to Michigan, but who in philanthropy would not want to move and work in Michigan? It’s been fantastic and I will never forget it. I will carry these two peninsulas in my heart for the remainder of my living days,” Roberts shared. 

Want more?

Watch the full Rural Philanthropy Video Series featuring FACF. 

Watch the full Impact Connected video featuring FACF and their DEI work. 

Read Carla Robert’s retirement announcement.

Learn more about FACF's new president and CEO, Shelly Hendrick Kasprzycki.


Detroit Students Discuss Needs for Upcoming School Year

As school districts across Michigan continue to grapple with how to safely welcome students back to classrooms this fall, a group of Detroit students ─ directly connected to our community of philanthropy ─shared their feelings on the 2021-2022 school year and how educators, leaders and philanthropy can help.

The Skillman Foundation recently hosted its “Let’s Talk: School in 2021 & Beyond” event with four members of its President’s Youth Council. 

The Skillman Foundation’s President’s Youth Council began last December and consists of 13 young people (ages 12-22) from Detroit. Council members meet regularly with foundation leadership to discuss issues that are important to them and advise how the foundation and its partners can better support their needs and aspirations. 

Moderated by council member Lamont Satchel, Jr., a graduate of Detroit’s Cass Tech High School and current freshman at Morehouse College, the panel discussed the challenges and opportunities of virtual schooling and the needs of students to feel safe and comfortable returning to classrooms in 2021. Panelists included Mathias Neloms (middle school student) and Mosammad Jahan and Willyne Smith (rising seniors).

Satchel kicked off the event by asking panelists what their biggest hope was for the upcoming school year.

“My biggest hope for the school year would be to proceed as much as we can without interruption and to do the best that we can under the current circumstances,” Smith said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing my friends in-person again and learning in-person,” Neloms added.

The panelists went on to discuss the challenges of virtual learning in the last school year, including limited access to technology and unfamiliarity with technology for both students and teachers.

“Our schools were never designed for virtual learning,” Jahan said. “But given the short time that they had, I think they did a good job adapting—at least my school did.”

A central theme of the conversation was mental health, particularly what schools could do to help students readjust to in-person learning while caring for their mental well-being. Panelists shared what their schools did to support students’ social and emotional health and what they think schools can do in the upcoming year to continue that trend.

“In my school, we had a therapist and we would focus on different topics each month for an hour,” Jahan said. “I think that was really effective and that other schools should implement that, too…and overall, just have mental health resources available in schools.”

“A lot of the mental health crises that happened over the last year were caused by our social isolation,” Smith added. “I think we should invest in talking to each other more. I think that was kind of inherent when we were on campus because we were surrounded by hundreds of people at a time. But in virtual learning, you kind of just mute yourself while the teacher gives the lesson and you log off.”
Satchel added his own experiences to the conversation.

“I feel like something I heard a lot—especially in middle and high schools—is, ‘You’re a kid, what do you have to be stressed about?’” he said. “But you have to understand what mental health and self-care look like in school and outside the school setting. We—both kids and adults—hear, ‘You have to leave that at home; you can’t let your problems affect your work or your schooling.’ But the reality is that you can’t.”

The panel also emphasized the importance of youth voice and input not only in school consideration, but also in philanthropy’s work.

“Once we are in positions of power or are at least once we have our voices and opinions heard, I don’t think it would be that hard to put [changes] in place,” Smith said.

Want more?

Watch the full “Let’s Talk: School in 2021 & Beyond” event.

Learn more about The Skillman Foundation’s President’s Youth Council.



Member Spotlight

Neel Hajra Named Incoming CEO of Michigan Health Endowment Fund

Content excerpted and adapted from a Michigan Health Endowment Fund press release. 

The Michigan Health Endowment Fund (Health Fund) announced last week that Neel Hajra, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) and CMF trustee, will lead the foundation as its next chief executive officer.

“The Michigan Health Endowment Fund has played an invaluable role in Michigan’s health landscape—particularly during this past year and a half, which has been difficult and transformative for so many Michigan communities, nonprofits, and health organizations,” Hajra said. “I look forward to working alongside Health Fund staff to continue to support Michigan residents through collaborative leadership and innovative, equitable, community-driven care.” 

Paul Hillegonds, CEO of the Health Fund and CMF trustee, expressed confidence in Hajra’s leadership and the Health Fund’s direction following his retirement. 

“Neel has been a brilliant leader for Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, and he will be a wonderful fit to take the lead at the Health Fund during this critical time,” Hillegonds said. “His fresh perspective will be a great benefit as the foundation continues efforts to respond to the most pressing health needs in Michigan through the new strategic plan.”

Hillegonds announced his plan to retire at the end of 2021. Hillegonds guided the organization through its first five-year plan and over $177 million in grant awards.

Hillegonds and Hajra both serve together as trustees of CMF’s Board and as co-chairs of CMF’s Government Relations Public Policy Committee.

“This transition speaks to the powerful leadership depth in CMF’s community of philanthropy in Michigan. Paul Hillegonds and Neel Hajra, as trustees of CMF and CEOs of two premier Michigan foundations, are leaders grounded in community experience with visionary perspectives and demonstrated believers in the power of collaboration. As trustees and co-chairs of our policy efforts ─ and in many other capacities over the years ─ their guidance, innovative thinking and deep commitment to supporting thriving communities has led to lasting impact. We look forward to celebrating these two trustees in their next chapters and are grateful Neel remains in our CMF community,” Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO of CMF, said. 

Want more?

Read the full press release from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.  

Read the full press release from Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. 

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