In the mid-1980s, community foundations were becoming more numerous in Michigan, fueled by a matching fundraising program launched by the Kellogg Foundation. The long-range planning committee of the Capital Area United Way felt the time was right to establish a community foundation in the capital region. If the United Way was the community’s charitable checking account, it seemed natural to establish a charitable savings account.
In October 1987, the Capital Region Community Foundation was formally incorporated. The original board was made up of Capital Area United Way committee members and community leaders.
In 1990, the Community Foundation hired the foundation's first paid staff member and had six endowment funds. By the end of 1991, the total had grown to 14, with more than $500,000 in assets.
Our 10th year of existence, 1997, represented great growth for the foundation, with assets climbing to $9.6 million. We also added a finance officer and a program officer to the foundation’s staff.
In 1998, the foundation received its largest gift thus far, a $4.3 million check from the Greater Lansing Foundation. It was also the first year we distributed more than $1 million in grants.
By 2002, the foundation staff had grown to four, and the Community Foundation held assets exceeding $32 million.
In 2006, we began a two-year strategic planning process that resulted in the foundation needing to take a strong leadership role in the community, using its influence, as well as its money, to address community issues in a positive, impactful way. At the end of the process, the board proactively decided to invest in two key areas of concern: economic development and youth programs. We supported economic development efforts by joining with community businesses, governmental units, and other civic institutions to form the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, or LEAP, Inc.
In 2008, the financial markets crashed, and while we fared better than most, we still lost 25% of the value of our endowments. The financial markets were good to us in 2009, and the foundation increased the size of its impact grant to $75,000, with the goal of making a significant difference with a single program or initiative.
We experienced a big, physical change in 2011, as we moved into the renovated Marshall Street Armory, where we are now part of the Nonprofit Center at the Armory, a collective of nonprofits working to improve our community and our state.
In 2015 and 2016, we conducted a community listening tour to find out what the community felt were the region’s greatest needs, and what our role should be in addressing those needs. We analyzed the feedback we received and determined our new strategic leadership initiative, which is to lead placemaking projects that will create vibrant communities to enhance economic prosperity in our region.
Since then, we completed our first riverfront placemaking initiative, from conception to reality, with Rotary Park in 2019. We received $8.6 million in new gifts and granted nearly $5.0 million in 2021 to support causes that matter to donors and to our community. In 2022, we celebrated our 35th anniversary as an organization. In 2023, we completed construction on Play Michigan!, the first universally-accessible playground in the region.
Now, we are forging new leadership projects and offer many grant opportunities for our local nonprofits. As a community leader, the Community Foundation has made a commitment to work more proactively, not just reactively, to better address our region's greatest needs.
The Community Foundation currently manages and invests over 550 funds totaling over $130 million in assets. Since we began making grants in 1990, we have distributed more than $87 million.
The Community Foundation doesn't sell a particular charity. It caters to donors. What's your dream? They can make that happen. It's more stable and secure than any one nonprofit.
– Pattie Reynolds, former Foundation President and donor