Kalamazoo Creates $500 Million Endowment Through Foundation For Excellence

Aug 21, 2017

Protesters with Kalamazoo For Revolution stand outside city hall. The group says allowing donors to restrict funds to specific uses in the Foundation for Excellence favors the wealthy.
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

The City of Kalamazoo has approved what is to become a half a billion dollar endowment through the Foundation for Excellence. The money will be put towards city improvements as well as a property tax cut. 

City commissioners voted 5 to 2 to approve the foundation on Monday. Commissioners Shannon Sykes and Matt Milcarek voted “no” - citing the city’s decision to let foundation donors fund specific projects. Sykes says that could prioritize some improvements over those for low-income and minority residents.

“We had an opportunity to honor our commitment to no strings attached and we chose not to,” she says.

Several residents expressed similar concerns - including a handful of protesters outside City Hall. Eponine Garrod is running for Michigan’s 6th congressional seat. She was with Kalamazoo For Revolution - a group that wants to reinvent the Democratic Party.

Garrod says she’s worried earmarked funds will benefit the wealthy instead of serving the people of Kalamazoo.

“Because now we have donations coming in that we have been told must meet the intention of the donors going through this board that doesn’t have to be 100 percent members of the city of Kalamazoo, they don’t have to be all Kalamazoo citizens,” says Garrod.

Nine out of the 15 people members of the foundation’s board will have to live in the city. The board will consist of the mayor, city manager, two city commissioners, three people representing Kalamazoo’s neighborhoods, and seven other stakeholders from area businesses and nonprofits.

A few residents also called for greater transparency in the endowment. Others praised the commission for giving everyday people the opportunity to improve their city.

“I say to my fellow citizens, write a check. You can be a philanthropist too," says Bob Miller, who works in community outreach at Western Michigan University.

Mayor Bobby Hopewell says he trusts the foundation’s board of directors will make the right choices.

“This is a monumental moment for our community, for our city. Perfection is not here, but I know that we worked hard to try to cover the gamut of issues that may come up in the future, ” he says.