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August 05, 2016

In W. Michigan, Giving Shapes 2 Cities in Different Ways

Generous local benefactors have had a major impact on social, political, and cultural life in western Michigan’s two biggest cities, but Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids reflect two very different approaches to civic philanthropy, MLive writes.

Kalamazoo made news last week when city officials tentatively approved plans to establish a $70 million foundation, privately funded but government-controlled, to eliminate budget deficits, finance delayed projects, and enable a property-tax cut. Donors to the planned fund, which experts say may represent a new model for civic giving, have kept a low profile, echoing Kalamazoo Promise, an anonymously funded charity launched in 2006 that pays to send local public-school students to college.

By contrast, giving in Grand Rapids has centered on more traditional donations to education, the arts, and other causes and on big brick-and-mortar projects. It is driven by wealthy philanthropists like the billionaire families of Rich DeVos and the late Jay Van Andel, co-founders of Amway, whose names grace major downtown structures. While they have forged public-private partnerships, the DeVos and Van Andel families’ conservative politics limit their direct engagement with local government, MLive notes.