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What Works and What Needs to Change in Detroit Philanthropy at the Intersection of Policy and Practice

Key Takeaways 

  • Learn more about who you’re giving to before making your investments to create more intentional and productive progress.
  • Focus on what Detroit’s good at, such as design and black culture, when talking about the city.
  • There’s general support and focus on raising home repair funds for Detroit residents.

Darnell Adams, director of Detroit Community Initiatives for the Gilbert Family Foundation; Nathaniel L. Wallace, director, Detroit, for the Knight Foundation; and Carrie Lewand-Monroe, executive vice president of strategy and programs at Invest Detroit, talk about Detroit’s philanthropy present and future inside the Conference’s Government Center, presented by Rocket Companies. The panel was moderated by Laura Grannemann, vice president of Strategic Investments for the Rocket Community Fund, and executive director of the Gilbert Family Foundation.

The panel started with a conversation about what Detroit’s philanthropy world is doing to move progress forward and close the inequality gap, especially in finance. Wallace believes more focus needs to be on understanding “the context and nuance” of various policy considerations and thinking more about better long-term solutions, not just a “band-aid” fix.

“We need to start interrogating the systemic and historic pieces behind it,” Wallace says. “We’re just starting to talk to each other more about what has and hasn’t worked…and for the solutions to stick, we have to have [better] policy.”

The conversation drifted to explaining moments when philanthropy created more challenges in making progress rather than serving its original purpose of solving the issues. Adams stressed the importance of learning more about the organizations you’re interested in before investing. He believes “if you’re just giving money [without being involved], you don’t know what that money will do.” Adams mentioned how he has dedicated up to a year to learning the ins and outs of local organizations before making a “simple” investment.

Later on in the conversation, the panel was asked about their ideal future in Detroit philanthropy. The group had some individual answers, such as Wallace mentioning the necessity to focus on promoting “things [Detroit] is really good at, like design and black culture.” But what the group collectively agreed on is increasing the importance and monetary amounts of sustainable home repair funds for Detroiters. For Lewand-Monroe specifically, she expressed her support for Detroit implementing the split-rate taxation process, similar to what other U.S. cities like Pittsburg, PA, have implemented.

“Think of how many Detroiters would be able to handle repairs before they get really bad if their taxes are lowered,” Lewand-Monroe said. “I think it’s still a heavy lift…but if you look at what happened in Pennsylvania when they implemented it, the economic development went up tremendously, and residents and developers also saw the benefit. I really think it’s a game-changer.”

Thank you to Rocket Companies for sponsoring this event.