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SMC Luncheon Speaker Robin Ferriby

At the Senior Men’s Club Luncheon on Tuesday, November 13th, Robin Ferriby, who until recently served as the Vice President and General Counsel at the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, reported to us on the work of the Foundation and how it promotes community philanthropy in the seven counties of southeast Michigan, Robin Ferriby P1080293_editedinvesting in programs that will have a positive impact. As a permanent community endowment built by gifts from thousands of individuals and organizations, the Foundation supports a wide variety of activities benefiting education, arts and culture, health, human services, community development, and civic affairs. Since its inception in 1984, the Foundation has distributed more than $941 million through more than 61,000 grants to nonprofit organizations throughout southeast Michigan. Robin is a Grosse Pointer, and he explained that many Grosse Pointe charities, community organizations, schools, and arts and cultural organizations have benefited from grants from the Foundation.

Among its other objectives, the Foundation supports building access to arts and culture for people of all ages, from small towns and urban cores, and for all ethnic affiliations across the region, all with the sole goal of enhancing everyone’s life.

The Foundation has awarded more than $118 million to arts and cultural institutions and programs since its inception. In 2017 alone, the Foundation awarded 75 million dollars to a diverse group of arts and cultural activities and organizations.. The Foundation is currently honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. and the Wilson Foundation’s investment of $200 million in support of parks and trails in southeastern Michigan and western New York. The Community Foundation received $20 million to endow the sustainability of the new West Riverfront Park on the Detroit River and trails leading to the park.

Robin discussed the spirit of cooperation between the philanthropic organizations in the Detroit area and how unique such an arrangement is. This spirit was essential to the negotiation of the “Grand Bargain” in the recent Detroit bankruptcy. Early in the bankruptcy proceedings, the President of the Community Foundation ran into Judge Rosen, who was the appointed mediatior in the case, picking up lunch at a deli across the street from the Federal Courthouse. She told the Judge that if there was anything the Foundation could do to help, he should call. The next day he did, and at a meeting that afternoon, he said he needed $500 million dollars (a figure that would increase during negotiations) for the bondholders so that he could save the pensions of retired City employees and the artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The Community Foundation led the effort to get grants from private foundations committed to Detroit who, within five weeks, committed $366 million to “save Detroit.” Ultimately, the State of Michigan put in $350 million and the DIA another $100 million. The foundations made their grants contingent on the bankruptcy plan being confirmed by the end of 2014, which made the largest municipal bankruptcy in history one of the fastest to conclude. The next year Fast Compaany magazine gave the Foundation for Detroit’’s Future, a subsidiary of the Community Foundation formed to administer the Grand Bargain, it’s annual “Most Innovative Not-For-Profit Company” award. The Ice Bucket Challenge took second place.

Before taking questions, Robin mentioned the concerns of charities that the new tax law will reduce contributions. He suggested some year-end strategies such as “bunching” two year’s contributions into one and skipping the next year. He recommends discussing such strategies with your financial and tax advisors.

Additional information on the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan can be found at

Reported by George Arsenault and David Morrow

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