The Download

The Download

October 5, 2020

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Power of Discomfort

A Message from Kyle Caldwell, president and CEO of CMF

As our world continues to grapple with COVID-19, the situation remains rife with tension as various opinions on how to prevent the virus’ spread and eliminate it from our lives differ greatly. Acknowledging our discomfort with these tensions is a first step in moving past them so that we can define shared goals and common values, and work together toward solutions.

Avoiding the uncomfortable gives us only a false sense of harmony, and it means we’re not addressing the real problem. Similarly, those of us privileged to lead in philanthropy have to get comfortable with discomfort to courageously address our society’s most vexing issues.

Soon the CMF board will be sharing with our community of philanthropy a new strategic framework that places equity at the center of our work. This commitment to centering in equity is a commitment to addressing the deepest challenges our communities face – racism, socioeconomic oppression, systemic marginalization and more.

I am uncomfortable raising these topics – as a person of color, as a leader who recognizes the broad diversity of our membership, as someone who knows there are many differing views we hold – but I firmly believe it is time to embrace the discomfort of difficult conversations ahead.

Our year-long journey to explore what equity means to us has invited opportunities for philanthropy to identify the tensions of how our communities, nonprofit partners and other sectors in society need us to show up, now and in the future. I’d like to share just a few examples of where you have been leading in the face of these critical challenges, particularly racial inequity.

Our national reckoning for racial justice that has deepened over the last six months led the Community Foundation of St. Clair County to be introspective, asking if their grantmaking and community investment platform was truly representative of all voices in their community. Randy Maiers, president and CEO of the community foundation told CMF: “We have to be comfortable criticizing our own work and admitting that there’s room for improvement.”

Randy and other leaders are finding there are untapped opportunities in our own work that humble vulnerability and uncomfortable conversations can help us expose to exact the systemic solutions we seek.

Rotary Charities of Traverse City has been on its own equity building journey and has offered its staff and board in anti-racism training for those who identify as white. Becky Ewing, executive director of Rotary Charities participated in the training last year. “It was uncomfortable and amazing, providing a jumping off point for deeper understanding, conversations and action.”

This self-reflection involves finding the gaps within our own individual knowledge and our organizational structures as they stand today to meet the needs and our aspirations for the future.

The Community Foundation of Greater Flint and Flint Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) are supporting community conversations in Flint. The community dialogue events are called “courageous conversations” focusing on race and racism.

There are many other examples where CMF members are living into their deeper embrace of philanthropy’s core meaning—acts for the love of humankind. Equity is certainly at the core of our understanding on how we will hold ourselves accountable. So, what are the hard conversations we might hold to continue our equity journey?

  • Do our grantmaking and investment policies promote equitable outcomes?

  • Do our board or committees invite different lived experiences into their membership or deliberations that reflect the communities we serve?

  • Have we built an inclusive table that engages partners working on the ground? One that welcomes Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities?

  • Have we reviewed our internal practices and policies with the goal of identifying gaps where we may not be fully embracing our values and aspirations for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)?

Our role at CMF includes helping to foster and create a safe space for uncomfortable conversations for our community of philanthropy. You will see this up close at the upcoming Annual Conference where we have worked to equip you with tools to continue leading these conversations in your communities. Our main stage speakers, for example, will walk us through a series of increasingly deeper conversations on bias, racism and engaging in (or leading) the difficult civil discourse we all need at this critical time.  

As leaders in philanthropy we can lift up and address challenges through our investing and our grantmaking. But as leaders in community, we have the added privilege to engage, amplify and create a platform of belonging for unheard voices. Today our sector is holding the conscience for democracy and what it means to affect transformative community change. When we embrace trust, aim to deepen relationships with our partners and share power, we not only hold equity at the center of our work, we demonstrate the power of leading through discomfort. 



New Data Shows a Reduction in Racial Disparities in COVID Cases and Deaths in Michigan

New data from the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities shows that such disparities in COVID-19 deaths and cases are lower than they were at earlier stages of the pandemic.

According to a recent report, African Americans make up 15% of the state’s population but throughout the pandemic, 29.4% of the state’s COVID cases have been among African American residents. However, in the last two weeks, that number has dropped with African Americans making up 8.2% of the state’s COVID cases.

The report focuses on the latest data relating to COVID-19 cases among African American residents in the state but also includes data showing a reduction in cases among Michigan’s Latinx population.

“The work of the Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, spearheaded by Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist, has helped us dramatically reduce the number of African Americans who have been impacted by COVID-19,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a press release. “We are not out of the woods yet and must continue to do our part to save lives and protect our brave frontline workers.”

The report also notes that African American residents have comprised 40.7% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths throughout the pandemic but that number has decreased to just under 10% in the last two weeks.

The task force’s work has mobilized partners around the state to engage in vital work to decrease COVID cases and deaths for Black residents, including:

  • Distributing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the public.

  • Strategic communications efforts targeting communities of color.

  • Collaborating with regional task forces to share data and best practices.

  • Improving access to COVID testing in communities of color.

“We have reason to be proud of the hard work and progress made to reduce the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black people,” Lt. Governor Gilchrist said. “However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic that continues to take the lives of our friends and family. We still have work to do to tackle generations of racial disparities and inequality to ensure that all Michiganders can lead happy and healthy lives.”

The 26-member task force is composed of leaders in health care, education, government and more. Leaders from Michigan philanthropy are also serving on the task force including Dr. Marijata Daniel-Echols, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), Celeste Sanchez Lloyd, a fellow at WKKF and Pastor Solomon Kinloch, Jr., senior pastor at Triumph Church in Detroit and trustee of The Skillman Foundation.

Whitmer’s office also announced 31 rapid response grants, totaling $20 million of CARES Act funding, to organizations addressing disparities throughout the pandemic, including food and housing insecurity, closing the state’s digital divide, increasing access to testing and other basic needs.

“The Rapid Response Grant Program will help us continue this hard work and create a blueprint that states across the country can follow to protect their most vulnerable,” Whitmer said.

Want more?

Read the state’s press release on COVID racial disparities data.

Read the Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities’ recent report.




Advancements Made Toward an Equity-Focused State Budget

Our 2021 fiscal year state budget is now in effect after Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed off on it last week, enacting a new spending plan with many line items focused on increasing equity across the state.

The $62.7 billion budget, signed into law on September 30, focuses on increased access to resources and funds to close disparity gaps across the state.

“While this budget faced many challenges along the way amidst a global pandemic, I am pleased that we were able to come together and produce a budget that funds the programs and services that matter most to our residents,” Whitmer said in a press release. “This has not been easy but in the end, the executive and legislative branches of government worked together to do what is expected and demanded of us and we now have a budget that will serve Michigan well.”

We are highlighting key items related to the work of Michigan philanthropy, including education, health, the environment and equity and justice that aim to remove barriers to key services.


  • $161 million in flexible per-pupil spending, a $65 per student increase from 2020.

  • $5 million in incentives to attract and retain first-year teachers in Michigan.

  • $5.6 million increase in funding for student behavioral health.

  • Expansion to the 10 Cents a Meal Program statewide.

  • Increase in child care entrance eligibility threshold from 130% to 150% of the federal poverty level.

    • CMF has been advocating for the eligibility threshold to be increased to 150% of the federal poverty level. In 2018, CMF’s Public Policy Committee developed and approved a letter to lawmakers urging increases in child care subsidy eligibility and provider reimbursement. This helped to inform an increase from 125% of the federal poverty limit to 130%.


  • $12.6 million for the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program to support new and expectant mothers.

  • An additional $20 million to support nursing homes facing increased costs due to COVID-19.

  • $2 million for the Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund.

Economic Prosperity

  • $30 million to the Michigan Reconnect program, which provides tuition-free pathways to adults looking to earn a postsecondary certificate or associate’s degree.

  • Limited time wage increase to direct care workers of $2 per hour for three months.

  • $3 million for a statewide pre-apprenticeship program with the goal of developing qualified candidates for building trades apprenticeships in the construction industry.

The Environment

  • $5 million for the Conversation Reserve Enhancement Program to reduce runoff contaminants in key watersheds, including Lake Erie.

  • An additional $1 million to the Michigan Saves program, which helps Michigan families make their homes more energy-efficient.

Equity & Justice

  • $4.2 million to implement crisis intervention and de-escalation training for Michigan law enforcement.

  •  $14.3 million to expand internet access to unserved areas of the state.

    • In outreach to policymakers, particularly during the pandemic, CMF has been advocating for additional support to help bridge the digital divide in both access and affordability as individuals and families are relying on the internet for remote work, learning and telehealth.

The budget went into effect on October 1 at the start of the state’s new fiscal year.

“When we started the budget process in early February, nobody had an idea of how challenging the coming months would be, no knowledge of the devasting impacts that COVID-19 would have, including the impact to our state budget,” Whitmer said in a statement. “But Michigan is strong, and by working collaboratively with our partners in the Legislature we now have a budget I will soon be signing, a budget that funds shared priorities that will move Michigan forward.”

Want more?

Read the press release from the governor’s office.




A Conversation with the Fetzer Institute on its Study of Spirituality in the U.S.

The Fetzer Institute recently released the Study of Spirituality in the United States, a qualitative and quantitative inquiry into how people of all spiritual and religious backgrounds from across the country describe their spirituality. Through a question and answer format, Bob Boisture, president and CEO of Fetzer and Gillian Gonda, program director for movement building are sharing with us what they learned through this work.

Boisture: Fetzer’s mission—to help build the spiritual foundation for a loving world—is rooted in the conviction that we are intrinsically spiritual beings. In this case, we sought to deepen our understanding of spirituality and how—if cultivated and engaged—it can animate concrete and positive change. Early on we brought in a group of scholars and practitioners to advise us for this project and with them, we concluded that this study would be an opportunity to build on current research by exploring the open question of what lies behind traditional measures of spirituality and exploring how and why spirituality matters in the U.S. today. What surfaced as the most significant finding is that most Americans consider themselves spiritual regardless of religious affiliation. Seven-in-10 survey respondents say that spirituality is important in their lives, with the majority of people considering themselves both spiritual and religious. In addition, people who identify themselves as “highly spiritual” are more likely to say that it is important to make a difference in their communities and contribute to greater good in the world.

Key findings

Fetzer shared that they uncovered illuminating examples of rich and diverse spiritual lives and that we share more in common than we may have realized. The data makes clear that spirituality is important for most Americans and is an essential part of their lives:   

  • More than eight out of 10 people consider themselves spiritual to some extent. 

  • Six in 10 people aspire to be more spiritual—and the more spiritual or religious people see themselves, the more likely they aspire to be even more spiritual. 

  • Nearly half of people say they have become more spiritual over the course of their lives. 

  • Most engage in at least one spiritual or religious activity every week.  

Fetzer intentionally designed the study to map the bridge between personal spirituality and care for community precisely so that they would learn more about the connection between the two. What they learned: People who feel highly connected to a higher power or to humanity at large are more likely to take community, civic and political action. Further, the more people identify as spiritual or religious, the more likely they are to:

  • Believe it’s important to “make a difference” in their communities and “contribute to greater good” in the world.

  • Engage with others in their communities and to take actions such as volunteering and donating.

  • Vote, share their voice on political and social issues and get involved in politics and social movements.

What has resonated with you and others from the key findings?

Gonda: We are heartened by the headlines in the coverage of the study—that there is a correlation between those who identify as spiritual and high levels of civic engagement. Many are interested in how this applies to our current situation—our divisive political climate, racial inequities, and ongoing challenges we face with the pandemic. How can spirituality inspire people to become more involved? To feel more connected to one another when it feels like we are pulling apart? The study also shows that there are a variety of practices people associate with their spiritual life and that the number one benefit is peace. It is an important reminder during these difficult times that we have spiritual wells to draw from.

What would you want philanthropy to know?

Gonda: These findings help give a more nuanced understanding of the spiritual lives of people in the U.S. today. It offers language and indications for how we relate to spirituality and it suggests that increased awareness of one’s inner life as it impacts outer action may give rise to lasting change. We hope professionals in philanthropy review the findings for themselves and consider how this nuanced understanding of spirituality and the role it plays impacts the change work they are implementing.

We also recognize that there is much more to learn from the research, so we are supporting additional scholarship based on the focus group and interview transcripts and survey data. One project will be conducted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The researchers will be using data from the spirituality study to focus on the potential impact of spirituality on philanthropy, compare the impact of spirituality on philanthropy versus other types of civic engagement and compare patterns of spirituality and spiritual practice. Findings will be shared next year.

Read the full report.

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