Irish Tabor Likes Helping

February 27, 2004
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GRAND HAVEN — The job seemed like a good fit.

After spending 10 years at home with her children, and working countless hours volunteering around town, Ann Irish Tabor was offered a chance to return to the work force full time in a field she found intriguing: philanthropy.

The position turned out to become much more than returning to work in a new career. It has been a literal labor of love as well.

"It was basically a dream job," Irish Tabor said of the position she took 14 years ago as vice president of development for the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.

"It was an amazing job, to work with people who want to do good in the world, who want to give dollars away to make the world better," Irish Tabor said. "Once I got into the community foundation world, it was clear that it was what I was going to do."

After helping the Muskegon foundation build its endowment from $15 million to $70 million, Irish Tabor is now helping another philanthropic organization to grow. She took over last June as president of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, where directors have set a goal of increasing the present $36 million endowment and reaching out even more to the community.

The opportunity to help the foundation grow its financial nest egg and mission attracted Irish Tabor to seek the position in Grand Haven after working several years in Muskegon, she said.

"That was one of the things that made sense for me to come here. I had been through that growth in Muskegon," she said.

The position represents somewhat of a homecoming for Irish Tabor, who lived in Grand Haven for 27 years. She moved to Whitehall in 2000 with her husband, Dr. Dan Tabor, whom she had married five years after her first husband passed away.

As president of the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, the 10th largest of 65 community foundations in Michigan, Irish Tabor has been given the task to "take it to the next level," she said.

To that end, the foundation in recent months has begun offering benefactors and estates new planned-giving options such as charitable gift annuities, and has launched initiatives to better recognize donors. One example is a benefactor's list in the foundation's annual report that lists a running total of donors through their lifetime.

The foundation, which primarily helps to fund community projects through grants and also awards annual scholarships for high school students, is also working to broaden its support base by appealing more to a younger generation of donors and to become more proactive in its grant process.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, the foundation will participate in a needs assessment for the Grand Haven-Spring Lake area that will help to prioritize projects and causes to support, enabling the foundation to better direct funding to where the funds can have the greatest impact, Irish Tabor said.

"There's really no end. Whatever the community can dream of to improve the quality of life, we can be there to help make it happen," she said. "It really is limitless."

A former English teacher who taught in suburban Detroit and Fruitport, the 55-year-old Irish Tabor was at home with her two children and volunteering for groups such as the local schools, West Shore Symphony in Muskegon and the Tri-Cities Area League of Women Voters in Grand Haven, when she was approached about taking a position with the Muskegon foundation. The opportunity, she said, was "irresistible" and fit with her high-energy personality and enjoyment of working with others to make a difference in the community.

"I couldn't not do that," she said.

Serving as the first full-time programming staff and a part of the team that helped to build the Muskegon foundation into the much larger philanthropic institution that it is today "was a great ride" that's now continuing with the Grand Haven foundation, Irish Tabor said.

"It's been better than I could have expected," she said of the first eight months on the job in Grand Haven.

During her time working in the philanthropic world, Irish Tabor has seen a change in how many benefactors offer their contributions. Many benefactors are increasingly interested in supporting specific causes and are planning out their gifts much more than before, Irish Tabor said.

They are also demanding results and accountability, treating the donation as an investment of sorts and wanting to know how and whom their money has helped.

That trend, Irish Tabor believes, has made foundations and charitable organizations all the stronger and more effective.

"If nonprofit organizations are good at being accountable, the dollars are there," she said. "We want to make sure we make a difference, too."   

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