About this Assessment

After eight decades of making capital grants to fund community institutions like museums and hospitals, The Kresge Foundation embraced philanthropic risk and made a 180 degree change in strategy. Today, the foundation exhibits an admittedly impatient desire to use all the tools at its disposal to close gaps in opportunity faced by low-income individuals and families. Although Kresge exceeds most of NCRP’s criteria for effective social justice philanthropy by working with low-income communities to address systemic urban issues like poverty, health and climate resilience, the foundation needs to explicitly integrate a racial equity lens throughout its work. We recommend that the foundation prioritize collaboration with community leaders in Detroit. We also urge the foundation to ensure that its financial investments are not undermining its mission such as by divesting from fossil fuels.

The assessment of The Kresge Foundation was conducted by Elizabeth Myrick.

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Key Finding and Recommendations

Keep practicing strategic, social justice philanthropy.

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Continue risk-taking, commitment to underserved communities, systemic approaches, cross-issue grantmaking, public leadership, multi-year funding, and nonmonetary support (convening, collaboration and strategic communications).

Background:
The Kresge Foundation’s goals and strategies demonstrate a strong commitment to systemic change, putting the foundation on a path toward achieving significant impact in underserved communities. Kresge’s grantmaking is flexible, works across silos, prioritizes the capacity-building needs of grantees, and fosters collaboration and shared learning.

Stakeholder Quote: “The impact they have had is far-reaching and survived the expenditure of the investment. Hats off to them for being visionary in that regard. I would give them an A+. They are an example of strategic philanthropy at its best.”

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Incorporate a racial equity lens in theories of change, tools and internal operations to build upon the foundation’s commitment to economic opportunity.

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Background: While the foundation is openly committed to fostering economic opportunity in low-income communities, it does not always explicitly use a racial equity lens, weakening its strategic commitment to opportunity and limiting effectiveness.

Stakeholder Quote: “I know there are things they want to do around race and justice. … Internally, there are some challenges … It’s okay if your heart is in the right place, but if you don’t have the capacity, you’re not very useful.”

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Especially in Detroit, develop more inclusive partnerships and levers for social change such as recent efforts to forge relationships with neighborhood and nontraditional leaders.

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Background: The Kresge Foundation often excels at strategic risk-taking and public leadership, but sometimes – particularly in Detroit – struggles to balance its tolerance for risk with a need for control.

Stakeholder Quote: “Sometimes, they have an ‘I know better than you’ kind of attitude. So, that affects how effective they are. There is a perception of [Kresge] being elite and untouchable, maybe that’s not the intent, but that’s the perception. … I would pull them out of the suburbs and … into the Detroit neighborhoods.”

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Increase payout to 6 percent and invest the additional resources to expand and support staff and to increase grantmaking to pursue the foundation’s ambitious, hands-on agenda.

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The additional $35 million to boost staff capacity and grantmaking, would help Kresge make faster social change progress by boosting staff capacity and grantmaking.

Background:
Grantees and other stakeholders consider Kresge’s program staff to be top-notch. However, Kresge’s process of selecting and vetting grantees can be daunting and sometimes frustrating. Expectations, accessibility and responsiveness of foundation staff remain a challenge.

Stakeholder Quote: “Definitely one of their challenges – they’re not known for getting back to people quickly. They can say they’ll do a grant with you, but it takes quite a while for them to really deliver or choose not to deliver and communicate that. I really feel that the major reason behind that is just how pressed they are by the really big agenda and a limited set of staff resources to deliver on it.”

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Increase alignment of its financial investments with the foundation’s mission such as by divesting from fossil fuels to help support environmental goals.

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NCRP recommends that the foundation work toward a goal of 25 percent of assets in mission investing.

Background:
The Kresge Foundation deploys multiple philanthropic tools to achieve its vision. These tools include convenings, thought leadership, field-building and advocacy, as well as grants, loans, direct investments, pay-for-performance instruments and loan guarantees.

Stakeholder Quote: “My feeling about climate change is that it’s not just an issue they should be making grantees address climate change where they work, but also think about how does climate change affect the Kresge Foundation? What are the Kresge Foundation’s vulnerabilities, and how can addressing where their investments are both reduce the problem and increase the resiliency of Kresge?”

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Continue to communicate strategically, especially when stakes are high, but show equal willingness to provide a platform for others when doing so will contribute to longer-term goals and relationships.

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Background: The Kresge Foundation meets and exceeds most of NCRP’s criteria for effective practices and good governance, notably in its commitment to transparency and diversity in staffing and leadership. Kresge continues to invest in robust communications, is active in national and regional associations and shares information freely on its website.

Stakeholder Quote: “Assuming that the mission and agenda is one that they want to move on – the inequities – then I would want to do much more of a national communication campaign about that, and let institutions know what that means very clearly, and what they’ll be funding and what they hope their outcome is. It has to be thought through, or it could be glib.”

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