rcollier cmf foundations feature

Growing Michigan’s philanthropic impact is a primary goal for the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF). The organization depends on its members, investments in Michigan’s charitable organizations, collaboration and more to move that goal forward.

In order to understand the nonprofit sector’s influence in Michigan, CMF supported research done by Public Sector Consultants (PSC) on nonprofits’ economic contributions. The results showed nonprofits are a vital part of Michigan’s economic fabric, employing one in 10 people in the state.

We talked to Rob Collier, CMF’s CEO and president, about philanthropy in Michigan, trends in giving and what he loves most about our state.

You’ve been president and CEO at CMF for 15 years and involved with the organization years before that. Simply put, you’ve seen a lot happening in Michigan’s philanthropy community. Can you talk a little about its growth?

Philanthropy continues to grow in Michigan. The number of foundations and tradition of giving back to the community continues to be part of Michigan’s culture. Philanthropy in Michigan has also gone quite global — the community is not only doing charitable giving in Michigan, but all over the world. The Internet has impacted philanthropy’s growth and reach. Tools like Kickstarter have made it quite easy for folks to be involved in charitable giving.

What is a primary concern you have regarding nonprofits?

Maintaining the charitable tax deduction for individuals. The tax policy greatly impacts how much people will give. Michigan lost the charitable tax credit in 2011, and we saw a reduction in the amount of giving. The charitable tax deduction is an important part of our giving culture and one that we don’t want to lose.

PSC recently conducted a study on the nonprofit sector. When you saw the study results that showed how crucial nonprofits were to employment in the state, were you surprised by them?

I’m always surprised. We know the nonprofit sector employs a lot of people in Michigan, but to it’s huge to know that it employs one in 10 Michiganders and more than 430,000 folks. It’s an important part of our economic engine, and that’s why it’s important to continue to have the incentives for charitable giving.

What are you doing to increase philanthropy in 2015?

There are a couple of issues we’re working on. One is at the federal level. We’re working on passing the America Gives More Act*. We believe it’s important for Americans and Michiganders to have the tools to help their charitable giving, and the America Gives More Act will do just that.

We’re also looking at how we can do a better job of capturing not just stories, but data. People say “You’re giving away all that money, but are you really making a difference?” There’s a lot of interest right now in not just collecting information, but using it to really show we’re making a difference. Being smarter about using data is one of our priorities right now.

What’s a recent trend within the sector?

Donor-advised funds [where a fund from an organization, family or individual is managed by a public charity] are becoming an incredibly important tool for growing philanthropy in our state. As a result, community foundations are growing rapidly around the state.

What is one thing you want our community to know about philanthropy?

Philanthropy is a trusted partner that can help raise all boats. It promotes equity. Everyone deserves a fair chance at being successful in our society, and philanthropy — by promoting equity and inclusion — can help make that happen.

You’re passionate about Michigan. What is it about our state that blows the rest out of the water?

When you look at Michigan’s people and natural resources, you can’t help but be passionate about Michigan. There are so many wonderful things going on. My work carries me all over the state, and I’m continually impressed by the creativity and the focus that folks have on making Michigan a stronger, better place to live for all.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love kayaking in one of our many rivers and lakes. I also love skiing during the winter. I’m crazy about chocolates, so I try to find local chocolatiers.

Condensed and edited for space and clarity.

*America Gives More Act of 2014 – Amends the Internal Revenue Code to: (1) make permanent the enhanced tax deduction for charitable contributions of food inventory; (2) increase from 10% to 15% of the aggregate net income of taxpayers other than C corporations the amount of deductible food inventory contributions which such taxpayers may make in any taxable year (for a C corporation, 15% of its taxable income); (3) permit a taxpayer who is not required to account for inventories or capitalize indirect costs, to elect, solely for purposes of computing the amount of the deduction, to treat the basis of any apparently wholesome food (as defined in the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act) as equal to 25% of the fair market value of such food; and (4) set forth a formula for determining the fair market value of such food. (Source: congress.gov)