Corporate Giving Is Receiving
GRAND RAPIDS — From FH Properties donating $400,000 worth of furnishings to the Ferguson Renaissance Center to hundreds of companies chipping in to help God’s Kitchen raise $147,000, corporate giving was certainly alive and well here last year.
Some might even say that local businesses have raised their philanthropy efforts to an art form, constantly searching for new ways to give of their time, money, talents and product so that others may benefit.
Grand Rapids Community Foundation President Diana Sieger would be one of those. Sieger has headed the local foundation for 14 years and has chaired a national foundation committee for the past three years. She gives area corporate executives high marks for their generosity and their commitment to the community.
“Here in Grand Rapids, it’s extremely positive and strong,” said Sieger. “The key thing that I find that is unique to Grand Rapids, and I don’t mean to sound like we’re an arrogant little community, but there aren’t a lot of places across the country that can raise the kind of resources that we have.”
Frey Foundation President Milt Rohwer is also one of those. Rohwer has had close ties to the corporate community, having led the local chamber of commerce before moving in to his current post at the foundation slightly over two years ago. He, too, gives the business sector A-pluses for its benevolence to and responsibility toward fellow residents.
“The extent of corporate and business giving in Grand Rapids is extraordinary and may, indeed, be a reflection of our tradition of locally-owned and family-owned enterprises,” said Rohwer.
Sieger and Rohwer aren’t alone in their lofty evaluation of local corporate philanthropy. They are joined by the Business Journal Editorial Board, which has nominated all the known, untold and overwhelming corporate gifting that was done in 2000 as one of the 10 finalists for the 2001 Newsmaker of the Year Award.
To be candid, nominating corporate giving was a no-brainer, especially when you chronicle it every week. But the brain drain came when it was time to select the actual nominees from the thousands of worthy candidates. After all the hemming and hawing was done and a few bottles of aspirin were emptied, staffers chose two projects that they thought captured the sector’s generosity and symbolized its heartfelt concerns last year.
One is the renovation of 1806 Bridge NW into Gilda’s Club, a special place where cancer patients and family members can find information about the disease and comfort from it. D&D Building Inc. and Design Plus headed that effort, which convinced 166 members of the local construction trade to roll up their collective sleeves and build the club’s Clubhouse.
“They’ve contributed over $400,000 in labor, materials and supplies toward the construction of Gilda’s Club,” said Executive Director Lee Ann Arkema. “It really has been an incredible gift from the construction industry.”
The other is another construction project, this time from scratch — the building of the Steil Youth Center at 255 Straight NW. Named in honor of State Sen. Glenn Steil, who spent a decade getting it built, the center belongs to the GR Youth Commonwealth and is an after-school haven for West Side kids where they can play and learn. Rockford Construction Co. and Cornerstone Architects were instrumental in getting it built.
“Every time I needed Rockford Construction to do more, they were there. I picked the right people,” said Steil. “Obviously, Cornerstone’s architects did a magnificent job. Look at this place! It’s a gorgeous building.”
So representing the corporate-giving newsmakers are half a dozen generous individuals who never seem too busy to help others. John Wheeler and Michael Van Gessel of Rockford Construction. Tom Nemitz and John Dancer of Cornerstone Architects. Norm Noordeloos of D&D Building. And Vern Ohlman of Design Plus.
These folks will join nine other nominees at a special GR Rotary Club luncheon on March 8, when the Newsmaker of the Year will be revealed. The last of the 10 nominations will be made known in next week’s Business Journal.
The amount of giving is always difficult to calculate because so many givers prefer that their gifts remain secret. But two years ago, the Dorothy Johnson Center for Philanthropy gave it a shot and concluded that in 1996 cash contributions to nonprofits from West Michigan firms ranged from $17.6 million to $35.7 million.
“There doesn’t seem to be that level of commitment in other communities,” said Sieger. “A lot of that has to do with business leadership as well as very generous families and individuals.”