Todd Jacobs becomes president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County on Jan. 1. The Muskegon native succeeds Chris McGuigan, who has run the foundation since 1999 and plans to retire. Jacobs moves to the Community Foundation for Muskegon County from the Fremont Area Community Foundation, where he’s worked as vice president and chief philanthropy officer. He previously served as vice president of community investment in Fremont and was director of planned giving for Ferris State University, executive director of the Holland Hospital Foundation, and development officer at Hackley Hospital in Muskegon.
What attracted you to the position in Muskegon?
I felt it was a wonderful opportunity to give back. Having grown up in Muskegon I certainly have an appreciation for the community and I’m very familiar with the Community Foundation and its work. I thought, what a wonderful time to be part of that resurgence of Muskegon and return to my roots. I’ve been involved in the Community Foundation since the early ’80s. I actually received a scholarship from the Community Foundation that was very helpful in my going on to school, and currently I’m a fund holder in the foundation (through an endowed fund created in his mother’s memory.) The opportunity to take that to the next level was very appealing to me.
How might the economy affect philanthropy in 2019?
From a dollar and cents standpoint, if the market’s doing well, will people be giving more? That’s a possibility, but as we’ve seen (as of late November) all of the gains from 2018 are now down to the market levels at the beginning of 2018. That certainly can cause folks to step back.
I do think the bigger part of a thriving economy is the energy and the motivation that it can spur. When individuals are feeling good about themselves and their situations, they are more apt to give. When they see where there are opportunities where they can make a difference, they’re more apt to give. It’s really more of a mindset.
How do you see that playing out in Muskegon?
One of the things that I think becomes a bit contagious is when communities see growth and they see a resurgence economically. Certainly regionally and in Muskegon, there’s a lot of positive economic signs. The planned renovation of the convention center and the revitalization of downtown, I believe that helps spur public and private sector investment. I personally believe for individuals it helps them to think creatively about how, perhaps, they can become involved and what they may be able to do in their communities. When they see things going on in downtown Muskegon, how might that be applied in other communities? That energy really starts to manifest itself and can be a tipping point for the greater community and greater philanthropy.
What’s a top priority for next year?
One of the things that I think is vital is that we continue to grow our presence in the greater Muskegon County community. I’m really interested in building what I consider opportunity for all. A big part of this will be the board and staff will be undertaking a new strategic plan in 2019. I really look forward to being part of those discussions and looking for those opportunities.
Do you see any large changes for the Community Foundation coming out of that process?
We will build upon the great work that’s taken place. The role the Community Foundation has played in the revitalization of downtown is something that is very important. The foundation remains the owner of the Frauenthal Center and that is a truly cornerstone institution to the downtown community. That kind of thing, from my perspective, will continue.
Where I feel there is opportunity is how we can take that energy and momentum and how does it find itself benefiting communities like Fruitport, Ravenna, Muskegon Heights, New Era, Montague and the entire Muskegon community. Downtown is starting to thrive. How do we help celebrate Muskegon in a much broader way? That’s where I see there being a change: the opportunity to serve the greater community.
What’s the biggest force affecting philanthropy today?
There continues to be some discussion of what may be the impact of some of the more recent tax legislation, charitable giving in particular, and that with the standard deduction being doubled how might that impact the annual gifts many individuals make in a given year. From my perspective, if organizations focus on what’s best for community and engage individuals that are interested in helping to strengthen organizations and communities — whether it’s around education, economic development or helping people become more self-sufficient — and if you appeal to an individual’s passions, I don’t know that it’ll be as devastating as some individuals feel that these tax law changes may be. In West Michigan, people are altruistic. I personally don’t believe that we will see some of the reductions that some folks in the field think may occur nationally.
What’s one prediction you have for 2019?
I believe that with the leadership of the Community Foundation and board in 2019, the community will see where the Community Foundation for Muskegon County will play a greater role in strengthening and being engaged in all of Muskegon County. My more humorous side will say I think the Detroit Tigers will make the playoffs.
Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez.
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