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Sunday, 04 March 2018 18:50

Q&A: Rob Collier, President and CEO of Council of Michigan Foundations

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Rob Collier, President and CEO of Council of Michigan Foundations Rob Collier, President and CEO of Council of Michigan Foundations Courtesy Photo

After nearly 20 years, Rob Collier plans to leave the role of president and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations, which is based in Grand Haven. But before Collier departs the position by the end of 2018, he’s still got “a lot of mischief that has to be created yet this year.” In his final months, Collier says he hopes to focus on a couple of key policy issues that are top of mind not only for the Council’s nonprofit and foundation membership, but also for its corporate philanthropic partners. In an interview with MiBiz, Collier also talked about how to prepare the next generation of leadership at the Council.

As your membership begins to navigate the new federal tax policy, what are you hearing so far?

Clearly, we want to make sure that we collect the data and have people start tracking now with the changes in the charitable tax deduction. There is great concern about what that will mean for individual giving in all of America, and for individuals in Michigan. Individual givers are responsible for about 70 percent of the given dollar; foundations are responsible for about 15 percent of it. So clearly we are concerned about individual giving and want to make sure that we do whatever we can to help incentivize the giving tools that are currently out there.

What else are you paying attention to?

The nonprofit sector in Michigan employs one in every 10 Michiganders. We employ close to 450,000 people and so clearly we’re concerned about jobs. One of our goals this year is to really set in place the research that we need to make sure that we can keep Congress informed (if we are) losing jobs as a result of a decrease in charitable givings caused by the new tax reform act. So, monitoring jobs and making sure that we are not losing a lot of jobs is going to be another important thing to set in place.

What is the Council’s corporate membership saying about the tax law?

People have said to me, ‘Well, if business is getting this huge tax break, does that mean they are going to be more philanthropic?’ We have corporate foundations and corporate giving programs that are members, but as we’re looking at them, we’re already seeing increased giving. 

Do you think that’s purely a result of the tax reform legislation?

Interestingly enough, and this another key point: The Millennials are really driving new ways of corporate engagement. A number of them are rethinking their traditional corporate volunteer programs because they realize that these younger employees and Millennials are looking for new ways to really demonstrate that the company they work for is making an impact, and that they have the ability to be a part of that. 

Is this a part of that trend of next-generation giving we’ve written about in the last couple of years?

I think that’s the big question. There’s some new models that are being tried and a number of our corporate members in not only Detroit, but also Grand Rapids, are looking at how do they reposition their corporate engagement and corporate volunteering to make sure that the Millennials feel that they’re indeed making a difference. 

What role do you see government playing in philanthropy in Michigan?

Philanthropy cannot replace government, but we in Michigan are unique in that we have this 30-plus-year history of partnering with state government. And so the question is: ‘How can we refashion public-private partnerships?’ One of the things that I think will be really interesting that we’re very engaged in is –– and I give Gov. Snyder credit for this –– the 10 regional prosperity zones that the state created in Michigan. It has really helped philanthropy. 

How so?

It’s really driven philanthropy and our nonprofit sector to be much more regionally focused so we have folks really operating in these 10 regional prosperity zones, which 10 years ago we did not have. So that’s going to be important because I think we’re going to continue to see an emphasis on regionalism in Michigan. Clearly, we think of the whole state, but I think the regions in Michigan are going to be drawing a lot of attention as we look at our infrastructure needs and as we look at some of the high priorities.

Given the long list of policy issues you’re engaged in, what made the end of this year the right time to step aside?

Part of my decision to step down is because I would like to devote more of my energy to the policy issues and the public-private partnership issues on a part-time basis in my next adventure. The Council is very strong and we’re a very strong organization, so I think it’s just time to bring in some fresh leadership to take it to the next level. And I can create good mischief on a part-time basis.

Given the need for new leadership now, how do you see that playing out? What kind of leader does the organization need in 2018 and beyond?

As the board said to me, ‘Rob, we’re not going to hire another Rob, (because) another Rob doesn’t exist,’ and I said, ‘I agree, that’s true.’ New questions are being asked, new forms of philanthropy are being created. So it’s an exciting time to have new leadership look at these opportunities and figure out, ‘OK, do we continue the path that we are on — which is very solid — or do we adapt?’ And I think there’s some exciting opportunities.

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Nick Manes

Staff writer

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