By Our Past
To serve community, it is critical that Grand Rapids Community Foundation learn from our history. The lessons of our past inform our actions as we evolve and new community needs arise.
Grand Rapids Community Foundation was founded in 1922, and we are proud to be Michigan’s oldest community foundation! Over the last 100 years, people who care about Kent County’s future have built the Community Foundation. Their time, financial resources and thought partnership have created an organization with the strength and vision to make bold change possible.
Our partners—donors, nonprofits, leaders, doers and more—have collaborated with us to bring sustainable change as we champion social justice and work to meet our community’s evolving needs. We have focused on issues like affordable housing, the AIDS crisis, equitable access to education and so much more.
Here are two examples of how growth, lessons learned and partnerships have shaped the Community Foundation and prepared us for our second century of service and impact.
Sowing the seeds of community voice in grantmaking
As the Community Foundation’s operational capacity grew in its first decades, the roles of staff and volunteer partners shifted. Early on, the Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees controlled much of the decision making. By the late 1980s, full time staff were hired and a strategic direction was set for the organization’s continued growth.
Ann Cooper was a trustee when the board established a committee to increase representation among the community being served through Community Foundation grantmaking. This original committee is the predecessor of today’s unrestricted Fund for Community Good, which invests in partners who share our commitment to becoming actively anti-racist.
Reflecting on that time, Ann highlights the opportunity she and other board members, including Shirley (Perkins) Daniels, saw to fundamentally shift the Community Foundation’s approach to grantmaking.
“There was not the level of participation in the Community Foundation’s work and decision making that would enrich its contributions to the community and result in improved outcomes. The opportunity was huge—seeking broad and deep connections with knowledgeable community members to learn what the real needs were. I was very proud to work with Shirley on efforts to facilitate the involvement of previously less-involved community members,” Ann said.
Years later, we have more opportunities for involvement in grantmaking, especially through community-led funds like Black Legacy Fund, Our LGBTQ Fund and Somos Comunidad Fund. The seeds sown by Ann, Shirley and others have shaped our approach and sharpened our focus on engaging community members.
See data for grantmaking this year on our Data and Financials page.
"The Community Foundation has brought to my attention organizations that are doing exciting work and filling in gaps that I might not have had the lens to see.”
– Emily Loeks
Donor partners demonstrate generations of generosity
West Michigan’s tradition of philanthropy runs deep. As giving strategies have changed over time, the Community Foundation has collaborated with donor partners to create meaningful and impactful gifts. Donor Advised funds have allowed partners to take a personal, hands-on approach by recommending grants to the causes and organizations they care about. If desired, donor partners can include the next generation in their grantmaking plan.
In 2003, Jack and Ruth Loeks made a gift that would grow and become the Loeks Family Funds, a group of Donor Advised funds. Jack and Ruth established successful businesses in West Michigan and saw philanthropy as a way to reinvest in the community. When creating the Loeks Family Funds, Ruth identified her 10 grandchildren as successor advisors. They each can recommend grant awards to nonprofit organizations locally and in the places they live. Like many families, they established a legacy of caring through their philanthropic priorities.
“In her later years, Ruth introduced each of her grandchildren to the organizations that she found to be doing fine work here. But it wasn’t intended as a direction for our own giving—it was sharing her passions and seeing what it could energize in us,” said Emily Loeks.
“The Community Foundation has been a tremendous resource to each of us, in being able to identify areas of personal passion and interest, and to be able to draw on the expertise of the staff to make use of those funds in strategic ways. I care deeply about literacy and arts and culture and the environment and some of the faith communities of which I’ve been part. The Community Foundation has brought to my attention organizations that are doing exciting work and filling in gaps that I might not have had the lens to see,” she added.
The Community Foundation donor partners’ passions and generosity build a foundation of inclusion, equity, justice and love. We are filled with gratitude for our donor partners, who for a century have made investments for a better tomorrow.
See all funds, including Donor Advised funds, on our Donor and Grant Partnerships page.
"The opportunity was huge—seeking broad and deep connections with knowledgeable community members to learn what the real needs were."
– Ann Cooper