April 28, 2021

by Doug Weber, AAACF Board Chair (5/19–4/21)

Springtime always feels like a time of change and hopeful new beginnings. Now that our late April snow has melted and spring flowers are emerging, I find myself warmed with a sense of renewal and great hope. In my personal life, that means that my cautious optimism has me looking forward to greater freedom to move about in public and to see and talk to many of you in our community face-to-face in the months ahead. Do you remember sitting in restaurants or coffee shops with colleagues and friends to share stories and experiences? I sure do. Getting vaccinated felt like a great first step in this direction, and if you haven’t yet started down this path, let me add my encouragement to you to get vaccinated!

I am now approaching a time of change and transition at our Community Foundation. My two-year term as Board Chair concludes at the end of April, at which time Betsy Petoskey will take over as our Chairperson. As many of you may know, I have been engaged with the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation in one capacity or another continuously for over 30 years! And in that span of time there are two (seemingly dichotomous) words that have always been undergirding principles: Consistency and Change.

Consistency describes the commitment of this organization to supporting the work of critical non-profit organizations around our County, improving the lives of many who live and work near us every day. Consistency also describes the backbone of our operating purpose – to build endowed assets in support of our community. This is a for ever promise to carefully steward the assets with two objectives: maximize our current grant making while at the same time assuring that endowed gifts have a lasting impact in perpetuity.

Change is also at the heart of everything AAACF does. Let’s face it, our country and the entire world are rapidly changing places, maybe never more dramatically so than in this past year. Between a worldwide pandemic and a new awakening to depth and breadth of systemic racism in our society, it can feel like things are coming apart at the seams. The things that divide us get all the attention, and it can leave us individually at a loss for what to do in response. But the truth is, as human beings, it is community that binds us together and makes us stronger, healthier, and happier. The Community Foundation, through our talented staff and committed volunteers, has been able to move quickly and with purpose to respond to these and other emerging needs in our community. Just a few examples include:

  • We worked quickly to identify critical local needs in the county brought on or exacerbated by the pandemic, and partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to direct immediate funding toward these needs.
  • We have pioneered a new approach to providing meaningful scholarship support that is aimed at making measurable improvement in college completion for students of color, first time college attendees, and low-income students in our County. The approach includes $20,000 per student for up to five years of scholarship support plus access to a success coach who can provide meaningful assistance to emerging scholars as they learn to navigate their collegiate scholastic endeavors. Today, 61 students have been awarded more than $1.2 million.
  • We have begun directing a portion of our endowed assets in locally focused investments that directly impact the lives of underserved people in our community, while at the same time providing a reasonable financial return that allows us to expand this program.
The Community Foundation has just completed the timespan of a strategic plan that ran from 2016 through 2020. This plan helped keep us focused on our real priorities for this timeframe and served as a highly useful tool in measuring our progress and directing our decision making. The results of the last five years have been amazing: Assets have grown from $75 million to over $175 million, with the largest portion of that growth coming in our unrestricted, and field of interest funds, where AAACF has the greatest flexibility to address the changing needs of our County. During that same period, our grantmaking has grown from $3 million per year to nearly $8 million annually, greatly expanding our impact on our community.

The Board and staff are currently engaged in developing a new five-year strategic plan that will serve as the guiding roadmap to our next five years. While this work is still ongoing, we intend to push ourselves to be more targeted in addressing the substantial equity and inclusion issues within our county, and to be forever stronger, more impactful, and focused on the most pressing needs in Washtenaw County—living into a changing world!

While I may change roles next month as I become Immediate Past Chair, I will remain consistent in my engagement. I am confident that the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation will continue to play an important part in knitting the fabric that helps bind our community together and makes Washtenaw County a wonderful place to live, to work, and to prosper.