Hudson-Webber, a fixture in Detroit philanthropy, was a longtime supporter of the organization’s programs to help women rejoin society after being imprisoned. The foundation, however, did not typically get involved in the kind of messy personnel and financial problems that threatened Women Arise.
Worried about losing what the charity brought to the community, Hudson-Webber agreed to pay off its liabilities and settle the personnel issues — but only by merging it into Matrix Human Services, which offers an array of social services to low-income families.
The long economic decline of Detroit has prompted Hudson-Webber and other foundations in the region to change how they operate. Faced with sharply declining resources and exploding need, they are being forced to pick winners and losers, engaging in what Larry M. Gant, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan, calls “triage.”
“Insolvent organizations need to be dissolved, weak ones need to be merged and acquired, and only the strongest should receive the stimulus they need to become more financially sound,” Dr. Gant said. “It’s simple in theory but hard in practice.”
Thus, the Hudson-Webber chief executive, David O. Egner, is asking himself whether Detroit needs both a world-class symphony and its Michigan Opera Theatre, and, if so, whether they could share an orchestra.
“These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking,” Mr. Egner said.
At the Skillman Foundation, one local charity after another warns that without an infusion of cash, it will have to reduce services or shut down.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, for example, approached in December to say that one of its three facilities would need to be closed unless it received help from Skillman — even though the foundation had never given it money.
“They’re coming to us because they have nowhere else to go,” said Carol Goss, the chief executive of Skillman.
Foundations like Skillman and Hudson-Webber that are embedded in their communities have a harder time turning away local charities than do large national foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation.
“As a local funder, you don’t get to pick the best programs to work with or the problems you work on,” said Tonya Allen, vice president for programs at Skillman. “You have to deal with what you have in your own backyard.” Continue Reading »