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Friday, 11 April 2014 07:47

Q&A: Mike Goorhouse, Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area

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Mike Goorhouse Mike Goorhouse COURTESY PHOTO

Over the last 13 years, Mike Goorhouse got to know many different aspects of the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area, having volunteered for various committees and task forces and serving as the organization’s vice president of donor development since January 2012. When it came time to select a successor for retiring President and CEO Janet DeYoung, Goorhouse was the board’s unanimous choice and starts in the new role on April 15. Prior to joining the foundation, Goorhouse was director of membership for the Council of Michigan Foundations. He talked with MiBiz about the role of nonprofit leadership and his goal to double the community foundation’s $53 million in assets during his tenure.

How does your experience and leadership style differ from the outgoing president and CEO?

Janet is very good at investment strategy and leading broad-sector initiatives. I bring skills more aligned with development, donor service and a strong knowledge of the technical side of what we do. Our priorities aren’t changing, but there is a slight difference in our abilities. She and I worked so well together over the last few years and we often balanced each other out. We’re a small shop, so we have to be conscious of keeping that balance in bringing on additional expertise going forward.

With your appointment, is the organization shifting gears or changing its goals in any way?

There isn’t a whole lot of change in our long-term mission in the community. We will continue to work on building the core philanthropic endowments and ensuring there will always be philanthropic dollars in Holland and Zeeland. That’s a legacy initiative. Secondary to that is our continued work in donor service and ensuring that as a third-party foundation, we can help facilitate donor goals. Those two things will be our mantra and that’s the heart of what the organization really is and its future.

What about operations?

Certainly there are a couple of things that have happened internally and we’ve made some shifts in the last few years in how we use our community endowment, how we distribute those proceeds into the community and the ways in which we build those assets. Coming down the pipeline is a new strategy in how to grow the community endowment. We’re moving into a space that emphasizes the estate gift side of that work. Key work with donors will be focusing locally to include the foundation in their estate plans and choosing which initiatives are close to their heart and how they want to keep those dollars local. That will be a big push for us in the coming years, and we’ll eventually roll out new plans that manage more sophisticated means of charitable giving in the community.

What about the philanthropic landscape has changed that made these new strategies necessary?

The challenge, now that the economy has come back, is that when we hit that tough spell, it created a lot of hesitancy for charitable giving and giving large dollar gifts. There was also some fear in the way of some major tax overhauls. That kind of economic uncertainty matters, and it’s definitely a challenge. That’s why an estate gift angle is going to be important for us. Often, you’re getting cash or check, but others have resources like land or equity shares of a public company and we’ve made a niche in the community in working with donors to manage these more sophisticated assets that aren’t always the most tax efficient. These gifts often tend to be bigger in value, and it’s been important for us to establish that credibility.

Will grant-making strategies change?

We have put a reactive strategy in place … for new grants in a more targeted effort to help smaller nonprofits scale up the work they do. There won’t be a lack of opportunities to apply for grants, but we will be making fewer awards each year. However, those awards will be larger and often over a number of years.

What is the hardest part about prioritizing where the organization directs its contributions?

For every dollar we gave (last year), there were four more dollars we had in request. So for every ‘yes,’ we are saying ‘no’ four times, and sometimes you’re saying ‘no’ to good projects. We are always trying to decide what’s good and what’s better. It can be hard on nonprofits to hear ‘no’ from us more often than they hear ‘yes,’ but that’s always inherent with the work.

What should the business community know about the foundation?

It’s hard to do giving well, especially when companies are trying to keep focused on running the business. The biggest thing the business community needs to remember is we have opportunities to make giving easy.

Interview conducted and condensed by Elijah Brumback.

Read 2544 times Last modified on Friday, 11 April 2014 14:05

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