Letter from the Board Chair
“Always present, but now unequivocal, equity is forever at the center of Kresge’s organizational culture and embedded in all facets of the foundation’s work.”
Elaine D. Rosen
Chair, The Kresge Foundation Board of Trustees
The Ride of a Lifetime
Serving as a trustee of The Kresge Foundation has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures. My term as board chair will conclude in December 2021, and I will retire as a trustee the following summer. As they say, all good things must come to an end. After nearly two decades I should be prepared for this departure, but I am not.
While contemplating this transition, I have been fondly reminiscing about the foundation’s journey and my bit part within it. In 1924 our founder, Sebastian S. Kresge, committed much of his wealth to form the institution and carry out his mandate in perpetuity: to promote human progress. For the next 80 years, the foundation pioneered and mastered the art of supporting new capital projects across the country – college lecture halls and libraries, recreation centers, arts and cultural institutions and health care facilities.
In a 2007 annual report letter like this one, I shared that the board had boldly decided to take the foundation’s nearly $4 billion endowment “out for a ride.” That statement summed up a pivotal and arduous question trustees had been exploring: Was there something “bigger” that could be interpreted from Mr. Kresge’s broad directive? The question was motivated not by the desire to change, but by the possibility to do more. We emphatically answered “Yes,” and set out to radically expand Kresge’s bedrock approach to philanthropy and grantmaking.
That trip was accelerated by the selection of a former Minneapolis attorney and deputy mayor, Rip Rapson, as Kresge’s new president and CEO. He helped bring clarity to the question our board had been struggling with, permitting us to realize that the foundation could indeed build upon its mission to promote human progress by taking full advantage of our resources and philanthropy’s unique, inherent qualities.
Over the next many years Kresge transformed into a strategic philanthropy by concentrating its grantmaking toward national ecosystems of arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services and in its hometown of Detroit. It also began to experiment with financial tools and impact investments designed to increase economic and social opportunities.
This expanded vision has allowed the foundation to drive change in innumerable ways, powered by the most talented and dedicated foundation staff who, in 2019, adopted Equity as an organizational value. Always present, but now unequivocal, equity is forever at the center of Kresge’s organizational culture and embedded in all facets of the foundation’s work.
Countless societal issues during the past 17 years have provoked the board to question our founder’s edict and or re-evaluate the foundation’s course. During the past year alone COVID-19, racial injustices and attacks on our democracy have more than warranted that skepticism. But every time it has been called into question, Mr. Kresge’s broad mandate has been considered a gift, steadily serving as a firm yet flexible guidepost that has permitted Kresge to expand opportunity for low-income people in America’s cities. And again in 2020, the board dug in its heels: The most important issues of our times have been raised, protested, advocated for and legislated in America’s cities, making them the precise places that need philanthropic support now more than ever.
“The most important issues of our times have been raised, protested, advocated for and legislated in America’s cities, making them the precise places that need philanthropic support now more than ever.”
Elaine D. Rosen
I will forever be grateful to the Kresge family for this experience. Their enormous generosity gave life to the foundation and the work we do today; consistent participation from the family has kept us true to our mission.
I wish to thank all the Kresge trustees with whom I have had the honor to serve and the esteemed Kresge staff for steering such impressive work. A special deep note of thanks is also extended to Rip, our leader, for his friendship and partnership in this role.
I am incredibly proud of what The Kresge Foundation stands for, what it has done and what it has become. Nearly 100 years after his establishment, I hope that Mr. Kresge has enjoyed the ride as well.