The legal documents that will establish the new Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence (FFE) were officially signed on Wednesday, August 23 by lead donors Bill Johnston and Bill Parfet and Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell and City Manager James K. Ritsema. Hopewell and Ritsema represented the City in the signing of the Articles of Incorporation, which the Kalamazoo City Commission approved during its meeting on Monday, August 21, 2017.
The initial donors to the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence, Johnston and Parfet, will now become co-chairs of a fundraising campaign tasked with raising upwards of $ 500 million dollars from corporations, individuals, private foundations, and other interested parties by 2019. Along with the articles of incorporation, a letter of intent signed by the co-chairs will serve as a guideline for a future fifteen-member Board of Directors, nine of whom must reside in Kalamazoo, as they carry out their duties to disperse foundation funds to the City.
The FFE is structured to operate solely for the benefit of the City of Kalamazoo and is believed to be the first entity of its kind in the nation. It will allow for the private sector to make “charitable type” donations to a municipal body (the City of Kalamazoo) in order to support and supplement its normal sources of revenue, thereby aiding dramatically in the City’s ability to flourish. The FFE is a historic shift from one of scarcity, tough choices, and financial uncertainty to one focused on improving lives in our community, investing in our City, and creating a brighter future. The FFE intends to complement existing philanthropic efforts in Kalamazoo and to seek opportunities to align the funding community around common goals to achieve greater impact, particularly for those residents experiencing the greatest need.
In recent years, Kalamazoo’s municipal budget has faced structural shortfalls of income created by cutbacks in support from the State of Michigan, reduced property values, and declining employment. As a result, the City has been forced to cover the income gap by cutting back on services such as public safety and road repairs.
The Foundation for Excellence provides funding each year for aspirational projects, alleviating generational poverty, and realizing the community vision that was established in the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Visioning Process that resulted in the City’s new Strategic Vision and Master Plan. These documents were shaped by 3,800 community contacts over an 18 month period with the intention of lifting up the voices of residents in City planning processes. FFE funding will expedite progress towards Imagine Kalamazoo goals and move the City in a direction that is consistent with our community values.
In 2017, FFE funding has been approved for three park improvements projects, the accelerated removal of lead water services, repairing and building sidewalks, additional tree trimming, and three key Parks & Recreation programs that provide educational and employment opportunities for youth. Property owners have also already seen the effect of the FFE on their summer property tax statements.
"This unique and innovative approach to making Kalamazoo a dynamic and successful community for all is very exciting" said campaign co - chair Bill Johnston. “This collaborative citizen driven planning approach to forming "Imagine Kalamazoo 2025" is energizing. The challenges and opportunities before us are both significant and amazing. Through the Foundation for Excellence as a supporting organization for our great City we now have the mechanism to provide significant program support for the City of Kalamazoo that creates a model that lifts families and breaks the cycle of generational poverty. I am very optimistic that individuals, businesses, private and community foundations will eagerly contribute to this wonderful opportunity before us.”