Foundations Can Help Stabilize Cities, Kresge Foundation's Rapson Says
March 9, 2009, Crain's Detroit Business — Foundations can play several key roles in helping re-stabilize cities, said Rip Rapson, president of the Troy-based Kresge Foundation.
Every day in communities around the country, foundations provide grants to nonprofits working to feed hungry families, shelter domestic violence victims, provide job-training and provide other much-needed services, Rapson said.
“But at the same time, philanthropy has been accorded the enormous privilege of being able to sight on a more distant horizon line,” he said.
Rapson spoke at “Best Practices from the Best-managed Nonprofits: Surviving the Economic Tsunami, a half-day event sponsored by Crain’s Detroit Business, DTE Energy Foundation and Lawrence Technological University and presented by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Greater Detroit Chapter, Detroit Executive Service Corp. and the LTU College of Management Center for Nonprofit Management.
Foundations can create a “neutral and safe space” as a conduit for all sectors — business, government, nonprofits and academia — to come to agreement on a strategic direction for a community, Rapson said.
Foundations can ensure there is sophisticated data collection and analysis upon which to base new directions and progress towards goals. And they can provide “the political cover for a city to muster the imagination and intellectual energy necessary to assail prevailing assumptions and embedded inertias,” he said.
“And then there is the money,” Rapson said.
Foundations can assemble flexible capital for selective investments in local projects that form a bed rock on which a community can build once the private capital markets return, he said.
In Detroit, that could be a light rail line up Woodward Avenue, Rapson said.
Foundations can not only target their grant making to more strategic objectives, they can also make below-market loans, invest their endowments in market-rate ventures, deposit funds in community financial institutions, guarantee loans or provide other forms of credit enhancement, he said.
The road to foundations’ roles in re-stabilizing local economies is there to be taken, Rapson said.
“If enough of us (foundations) take it; it might actually make a difference.”