Building a strong foundation for the community involves bricks and mortar, in addition to providing funds focused on health and human service issues.
That’s according to leaders at the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, which was named a co-finalist in the MiBiz Best-Managed Nonprofit Awards in the large organization category.
“What we have really done as a foundation is taken our ability to provide grants to our community to a new level, especially with the work we’re doing with the focus on our community with convening, organizing, and funding of the Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium,” said Holly Johnson, president of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.
The organization is spearheading the effort to replace the bleachers at Sherwood Waterfront Stadium with a grassy-tiered amphitheater. While this may seem more in line with the work of economic development organizations, Johnson said the renovation project is designed to benefit the community and the region, which fits with the foundation’s mission.
The Sherwood Waterfront Stadium project is the foundation’s largest community betterment grant. The venue’s namesake — the late Lynne Sherwood — made a $3 million bequest through the foundation for the project, which has a total construction cost of about $4.5 million.
“We’re really committed to the regional impact that we can make as grantmakers,” Johnson said. “This lakeshore is our region’s lakeshore. We continue to look for ways to make the community viable for the next generation to enjoy. Part of our job is to ensure that our natural resources remain healthy.”
The foundation exists to care for the community and its residents and to enrich the region, Johnson said. The organization is committed to finding the best possible uses for its philanthropic resources through the creation of partnerships and collaborations that will have a positive impact on the community and the broader West Michigan region.
“We’re just firm believers that money isn’t what solves all of our community issues,” she said. “It’s partnerships and collaborations that do that solving of systemic issues, rather than putting a Band-Aid on community problems.”
While the Sherwood Stadium project is focused on attracting people from throughout the region to the lakeshore community, another major project, Ottawa Housing Next, aims to benefit Grand Haven residents who need affordable housing options. The initiative co-chaired by Johnson and Mike Goorhouse, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, is described as a cross-section collaborative involving the nonprofit, business, and governmental sectors.
“Historically, units of government are more comfortable with approving single-family developments and lots,” Johnson said. “We’re working with them to show the value of more dense units. We want them to be right where the services are, such as schools and grocery stores.
“Ultimately, we want people working in our communities to be able to live in our communities. That could be a teacher with a chunk of student loans to pay off, a restaurant or factory worker.”
Even though there is a broad swath of support for Ottawa Housing Next, the initiative has not been without its share of critics. Johnson’s response: “If you don’t have people as naysayers, you’re not leading boldly enough.”
“We have been incredibly fortunate with some generous donors and investment returns that have seen our assets double in six years,” she said. “This allows us to do things more proactively and entrepreneurially.”
While these more economic development-focused philanthropic pursuits have captured plenty of attention, the foundation still focuses on health and human service needs such as mental health, quality preschool education and teen suicide prevention.
Uncertainties in the economy and surrounding the impact that the recently-approved federal tax plan could have on charitable giving are among Johnson’s major concerns.
“There is a huge crisis in mental health and lots to be done to help with the stigma. We really want every student in our community to have a quality preschool education,” she said. “We have a lot of high flyers in our community who will go off to college and do great, but manufacturing and commerce are where a lot of the jobs are. We work with employers to make sure jobs are filled.
“I really worry about the resources necessary to continue to fund a lot of very important initiatives. There are some really challenging things that are hard to fix. There’s still so much more that our communities need to make sure everybody is reaching full potential.”
Grand Haven Area Community Foundation
Mission: Intentionally improve and enhance the quality of life in the Tri-Cities and West Michigan region.
Service Area: Ottawa County and Western Michigan
Executive director: Holly Johnson, president
Number of employees: 8
Annual revenue: $5 million in gifts (2017 estimate)
Management best practices:
- Governance: 11-member community board of trustees meets quarterly (at a minimum), and conducts an annual performance evaluation of the president
- Fiscal responsibility: annual audit, investment committee oversight, co-fiduciary, and dual signature on large expenditures
- Grantmaking: due diligence on grantees and grants committee decision making
- Development: intentional engagement of professional advisers, cultivation of legacy society (planned gifts), and year-round communication
Board of directors: Tammy Bailey (chair), Buy Right Packaging Supply Inc.; Randy Hansen, (vice chair), Centennial Securities Co.; Chad D. Bush (secretary), US Retail Inc.; Nelson Jacobson (treasurer), JSJ Corp.; Sandy Huber, retired educator; Mark Kleist, Scholten Fant; Anil Mandala, V Solutions Global; Mark Pereira, Amazon/Brilliance Audio; Barb VanHeest, Chase Business Banking; Monica Verplank, education and mindfulness consultant; Kim Zevalkink, retired educator
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from a previous version.