A tribute to philanthropy: The W.E. Upjohn Society

“We know recognition is not a prime motivator for giving,” says Joanna Donnelly Dales, vice president of Donor Relations at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. “But it’s important for us to honor our donors and their legacies.”

The Community Foundation has been carrying out donors’ legacies since W.E. Upjohn, founder of The Upjohn Company, gave the Community Foundation its first gift in 1925. Since then the community foundation has grown to be one of the nation's largest community foundations, per capita, with annual grants of around $14 million, which includes $1 million in scholarships to local students. Investment performance ranks in the top two percent of U.S. community foundations.

In 2016, gifts to the Community Foundation ranged in size from $8 to $8 million. Twenty-three new funds were created, bringing the total number of funds to 864.

“We are grateful for every gift we are given,” says Dales, “and we like to honor donors who create unique charitable legacies that will benefit Kalamazoo County forever in a special way.”

The Community Foundation's W.E. Upjohn Society is that special way.

Created in the mid-1990s, its members include donors who have created a fund or made provisions for the Community Foundation in their estate plan. With endowed funds, the original gift is invested – so the fund grows and resources are available forever. The income from those investments is used for grantmaking.

Each year the Community Foundation brings together society members for A Tribute to Your Philanthropy, a special event designed to honor their legacies and that of W.E. Upjohn. Shortly after the society was established, a few donors came together to create an endowed fund to the cover the costs of this annual celebration. This maximizes the foundation's grantmaking resources.

In 2016, Jason Luke, from Kalamazoo RESA's Education for Employment program, was the event's featured speaker, presenting on the tremendous impact STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is having on local students. Students also were on hand to demonstrate projects they'd completed as part of the program.

The previous year, award-winning musician, composer and author Peter Buffett performed. In between piano numbers accompanied by photos and videos, he spoke about how he and his wife, Jennifer, carry out their philanthropy through their NoVo Foundation. They focus on building a more just and balanced world, including an emphasis on the rights of girls and women.

Other speakers have included the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research's Dr. Timothy Bartik on high-quality pre-kindergarten as a boost to economic development, and Carol Goss, who retired from her role of president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation in 2013.

Community Foundation President/CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway also has been a featured speaker, highlighting Kalamazoo County's unique community legacy of philanthropy.

“These events enable us to pay tribute to donors and their vision for the future of our community." says Ann Fergemann, philanthropic advisor at the Community Foundation. "However, more importantly, they show people what they make possible through their philanthropy; they help ignite a passion for our local community and they reflect our collective desire to care for those who come after us."

Learn more about The W.E. Upjohn Society

September 11, 2017

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