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Annals of Accountability: Kresge Foundation

July 17, 2009

Rapson_new One of my favorite philanthropic "reads" over the last year or so has been Rip Rapson, president of the Kresge Foundation in Troy, Michigan. Starting shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers last September -- an event that both signaled and helped kick off a new and more serious phase of the global economic crisis -- Rapson has penned a series of "open letters" (here, here, and here) to the philanthropic and nonprofit communities about Kresge's response to the deepening crisis.

In his latest missive, Rapson notes that

since February, the economic pressures facing families and nonprofit organizations have intensified. The number of indidivuals out of work and families displaced from their homes continue to mount at staggering rates. Nonprofits continue their struggles to balance mounting costs, escalating demand, and diminishing revenues.

These pressures have made clear that providing greater flexibility to our existing capital challenge grantees is a necessary, but not sufficient, response. We have accordingly developed a number of new funding opportunities....

He then outlines six steps the foundation has or will be taking in order "to provide maximum traction" for its grantees:

  1. Provide modest operating support grants to capital challenge grantees that provide "lifeline" human services
  2. Make support for community-based organizations that offer food, shelter, and other forms of lifeline assistance a high priority
  3. Establish a Community Relief Fund to provide zero-interest program-related investment loans of up to $500,000 to emergency-service agencies
  4. Create two new grant opportunities (to be announced at the end of the month): a Health Clinic Opportunity Fund and a Safety-Net Enhancement Initiative
  5. Launch, in St. Lous and Baltimore (followed by Detroit), a $600,000 community arts and engagement project
  6. Take additional actions in each of its fields of interest -- education, community development, arts and culture, health, human services, and the environment -- "to help alleviate some measure of pain wrought by the economic collapse"

As Rapson notes in closing, no single foundation can "right this out-of-kilter economy." But, he adds, quoting Kresge board chair Elaine D. Rosen, "If ever there was a time for us to step up and lead, it is now."

-- Mitch Nauffts

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