Where do we put our money?

While West Michigan is known for its charity, that work gets translated into very different outcomes. It’s the difference between Art Prize and the Kalamazoo Promise. Something is going on, but what? It certainly seems worth a study (well as long as some one else pays for it — a kind of irony in itself),  as MLive explains

Through GVSU’s Russell G. Mawby Fellowships in Philanthropic Studies, (Michelle) Miller-Adams will examine “why two similar communities have produced such different models of philanthropic behavior, and what are the implications of the different models for philanthropy and volunteerism in the broader communities,” according to the university.

As a first pass, several issues seem to come to the fore.

First, as a philanthropic community, the tenor and tone of the giving will be determined by the leaders. Here, the number of fortunes in question are actually fairly small: Upjohn, Stryker, the Amway nexus, Steelcase, and perhaps the Cook money. With such a small sample set, some of the variation may simply be that of the particular character of the families themselves.

Second, it may be the relative age of the money. The older fortunes (Upjohn, Steelcase) arose in a more communitarian framework; these are generally industrial fortunes, the fruit of great enterprises.  Newer money has grown from more entrepreneurial enterprises, Amway being the leading example. This latter money tends to support entities that reflect similar entrepreneurial, civic building enterprises, such as the Van Andel Institute.

Third, there is perhaps a religious element here, as well. The Grand Rapids fortunes — particularly those flowing from the Amway nexus, and from Meijer — are anchored in the Dutch-American culture. Both the Steelcase money and the Upjohn fortunes flow from more generally American backgrounds, grounded in mainline religion. (Interesting to note that the lumber baron Blodgett himself was something of a notorious doubter).

For those of us with far less exalted means, the questions still remain: what do we invest in, what projects capture our time, our resources?

What has been distinctive for both communities has been the creativity leaders have brought. When resources and creativity meet, good things can happen.


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