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The Role of Philanthropy in Creating Vibrant Communities
David Egner, President and CEO, Hudson-Webber Foundation
Hudson Webber Foundation President and CEO David Egner, discussed the role of the philanthropic community in the fight to create 21st century vibrant communities.
The Hudson Webber Foundation, which has its roots tracing from J. L. Hudson, articulates its stated purpose as improving the vitality and quality of life of the metropolitan Detroit community. “The Foundation concentrates its giving primarily within the city of Detroit and has a particular interest in the revitalization of the urban core because this area is a focus for community activity and pride, and is of critical importance to the vitality of the entire metropolitan community.” Currently, the Foundation focuses efforts within five program missions—Detroit physical revitalization, economic development, arts, safe community, and the Detroit Medical Center.
Egner focused his comments to forum participants in response to the question of how local officials can engage the philanthropic community.
Egner began his remarks by noting traditional economic development, which had its base in the auto industry, is out of date. He noted that less than 30% of parents in the 1950s and 1960s felt a college degree was important. Recognizing that there has been a drastic culture change in the past ten years, he offered that foundations have not yet figured this out. As a result, it is difficult to convince philanthropic boards that culture change is here and further change is inevitable.
Egner noted that local officials should recognize that board members of foundations are typically business people who like to make money. Community projects proposing to leverage money are the projects most attractive to foundation boards. As an example, a board that is told its $7.5 million would leverage ten times that amount is more likely to consider the request. “They buy the leverage argument.”
He also suggested it is necessary to break off edible bites to effect change and to involve the philanthropic community. Using Detroit as an example, he suggested those edible bites are structured around one or two issues, such as the riverfront, neighborhoods, or transit system. He offered that generally philanthropy will not put money into governmental projects; however, it is willing to be a part of collaboration on projects.
Egner suggested that requests for assistance should not be made for planning, but rather for actual projects. All requests should be the result of 1. research (make sure you know whether what you are asking for fits within the foundations mission), 2. identification of a champion on the inside, and 3. vibrant presentation (try to light them up!). Philanthropy doesn’t like risk-taking, so educating the boards on the risk/return factors is critical.
Egner also suggested using philanthropy as a convening body that gets the appropriate players to the table. He reminded local officials that board members of foundations are there because of their influence. Using them to convene a group of people suited for a project is a very smart use of the philanthropic body.