"Through the creation of City Year, Michael has helped build what his friends and supporters have called ‘the missing link in our democracy’ — a culture of national service," said Ron Kagan, chair of the 2015 John W. Gardner Leadership Award Committee and president and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society, in a statement.
Created in 1985, the award is named for the founding chair of Independent Sector, John W. Gardner, who served as secretary of health, education, and welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. It goes to living Americans who have made significant contributions to philanthropy through their leadership and service.
City Year is a national nonprofit that hires young-adult AmeriCorps members to spend a year tutoring and running programs in schools with high levels of student poverty. The organization, which Mr. Brown created with his Harvard University roommate in 1988, now operates in 26 American cities, plus Britain and South Africa.
Mr. Brown, who counts Mr. Gardner among his heroes, credits the work of City Year’s staff members for the award.
"It’s a group effort," he said. "It’s a tremendous honor, especially because it comes from peers."
He plans to keep pursuing the founding vision of City Year, which is to encourage all young people to perform a year of public service.
"For me, national service is a whole theory of democracy," he said. "It would be such a boost of American democracy if it became a generational experience."
In addition to running City Year, Mr. Brown, a past board member of Independent Sector, serves on the boards of Cradles to Crayons and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
The award presentation will take place October 29 at the 2015 Independent Sector National Conference in Miami.