As Detroit Struggles, Foundations Shift Mission
DETROIT, March 22, 2009, The New York Times — Two years ago, a charity called Women Arise went to the Hudson-Webber Foundation with a plea for help.
Hudson-Webber, a fixture in Detroit philanthropy, was a longtime supporter of the organization’s programs to help women rejoin society after being imprisoned. The foundation, however, did not typically get involved in the kind of messy personnel and financial problems that threatened Women Arise.
Worried about losing what the charity brought to the community, Hudson-Webber agreed to pay off its liabilities and settle the personnel issues — but only by merging it into Matrix Human Services, which offers an array of social services to low-income families.
The long economic decline of Detroit has prompted Hudson-Webber and other foundations in the region to change how they operate. Faced with sharply declining resources and exploding need, they are being forced to pick winners and losers, engaging in what Larry M. Gant, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan, calls “triage.”
“Insolvent organizations need to be dissolved, weak ones need to be merged and acquired, and only the strongest should receive the stimulus they need to become more financially sound,” Dr. Gant said. “It’s simple in theory but hard in practice.”
Thus, the Hudson-Webber chief executive, David O. Egner, is asking himself whether Detroit needs both a world-class symphony and its Michigan Opera Theatre, and, if so, whether they could share an orchestra.
“These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking,” Mr. Egner said.
At the Skillman Foundation, one local charity after another warns that without an infusion of cash, it will have to reduce services or shut down.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, for example, approached in December to say that one of its three facilities would need to be closed unless it received help from Skillman — even though the foundation had never given it money.
- Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan
- Carnegie Corporation
- Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation
- Detroit Science Center
- Ford Foundation
- Ford Motor Company
- General Motors Foundation
- Hudson-Webber Foundation
- Kresge Foundation
- Matrix Human Services
- Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation
- Michigan Opera Theatre
- Skillman Foundation
- Southwest Detroit Weed and Seed
- The McGregor Fund
- The New York Times
- University of Michigan
- Women Arise
- YouthVille Detroit