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Imagine a vibrant, prosperous, and equitable city, where people want to live, work, and raise families. Imagine being a more beautiful and livable city each year, more innovative and connected. Imagine having more jobs and less poverty, and providing young people with the jump-starts they need in life.

Structural budget challenges have for many years impeded the City’s effort to make its vision a reality. The Foundation For Excellence is a unique innovation by the City of Kalamazoo and private donors to address systemic challenges to the prosperity of the city. The Foundation will provide $70.3 million to stabilize the city’s budget, lower its property tax rate, and for $10 million of aspirational community projects per year through 2019. During this period, a community fundraising effort will be launched to create a fully endowed foundation that can sustain this funding in perpetuity. You can make a donation to the Foundation for Excellence here

The Foundation’s financial model is being structured in such a way as to do the most good with the most efficient use of resources possible. The Foundation will work to establish strategic partnerships with organizations whose mission and work aligns with the goals and objectives of the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Strategic Vision and Master Plan, the Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo plan, and the City of Kalamazoo. These plans are built around the City’s deep investment in broad community involvement and collaboration. Each reflects a pathway to improve life for all residents of Kalamazoo. 

Founding Documents:

Make a donation to the Foundation for Excellence here


August 25: 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.”

FFE Donor Intent, Signed August 23, 2017

FFE Articles of Incorporation, Signed August 23, 2017

FFE Bylaws, Signed August 25, 2017


August 21: The Kalamazoo City Commission passed a resolution approving incorporation of a new foundation, known as the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence (FFE), organized for the purpose of supporting and benefiting the operation and programs of the City of Kalamazoo.

The Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence is a project of singular significance for the fiscal well-being of the City of Kalamazoo. Two lead donors initially provided $70.3 million over three years to stabilize the City’s budget, to lower the property tax rate from 19.2705 mills to 12 mills, and for $10 million of aspirational community projects annually in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

It is the objective of the FFE to raise an additional $500+ million in order to endow the FFE’s work in perpetuity.

The Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation included in Monday night’s resolution were the product of significant work by staff based on the Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Kalamazoo and the lead donors that was approved by the City Commission at its October 24, 2016 Work Session. Additional City Commission Work Sessions were held on October 24, 2016, as well as January 23, July 24, and August 7 of 2017 to thoroughly explore aspects and details of FFE’s creation and to offer extensive and open opportunities for public comment.

Numerous technical, human, and economic resources were consulted to inform the planning of the Kalamazoo Foundation for Excellence, but few will shape the FFE’s work as definitively as the citizen input cultivated by the Imagine Kalamazoo process or its resulting ten-year Strategic Vision, which was approved by the City Commission on July 17, 2017, and forthcoming Master Plan.

Foundation For Excellence Resolution (Final Draft)

Foundation for Excellence Articles of Incorporation

Foundation for Excellence Proposed Bylaws


August 7: The Kalamazoo City Commission will continue the discussion of proposed Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation for the Foundation for Excellence during its regularly scheduled August 7 meeting. The meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the City Commission Chambers at City Hall. City Commission meetings are also televised on PMN Channel 190 and on the City of Kalamazoo’s YouTube Channel.

Draft Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation were introduced to the City Commission during a Work Session on July 24. City staff have prepared additional information related to issues that were raised at the Work Session, which is available here.

Following this additional discussion at the August 7 meeting, it is anticipated that the City Commission will consider the Articles and Bylaws for approval on August 21.

Revised Articles of Incorporation, August 3, 2017

Revised Bylaws, August 3, 2017


July 24, 2017: On Monday, July 24 at 6:00 p.m. the Kalamazoo City Commission will convene for a work session focused on the Foundation for Excellence. The work session will be held in the City Commission Chambers at City Hall and will be televised live on Public Media Network Channel 187 and streamed on the City of Kalamazoo’s YouTube Channel.

The specific focus of the meeting will be the proposed bylaws and articles of incorporation for the new Foundation for Excellence. Since the FFE was approved in October 2016, City staff have explored best practices and worked with community partners and donors to draft the legal structure and rules of the Foundation. They will be presented to the City Commission for review and discussion and could be presented for approval as early as the August 7 meeting.

The documents spell out the details of how the FFE will operate, such as how the Board of Directors and Officers are selected, how meetings are scheduled and conducted, how projects are ultimately chosen for funding and the relationship between the FFE and the City Commission.

“We did our homework before preparing these documents and have consulted with our community partners, the Michigan Council of Foundations and reviewed other foundations across the country with similar missions,” explained City Manager Jim Ritsema. “The structure and bylaws we will present will set the FFE up for long-term success and provide funding to make our aspirations a reality.”

The proposed bylaws and articles of incorporation are available here.

In addition to $70.3 million to fund a three-year transition period through 2019, the Memorandum of Understanding between the City and the lead donors included a commitment to assist in a fundraising effort to raise the approximately $500 million needed to fully endow the Foundation and sustain its work in perpetuity. After the documents are approved, this fundraising effort will begin and the Foundation’s Board of Directors will be selected.

Several Kalamazoo residents have already shown their support for the Foundation’s work by electing to donate a portion of their 2017 property tax savings back to the FFE.

“We are continuing to see strong support for the Foundation for Excellence and for the important investments that it will enable in our city,” said Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell. “With each step in the progress we are getting closer and closer to ensuring this will continue for generations to come, making our city a better place and helping all in our community to realize their potential.”


April 3, 2017: On April 3, the Kalamazoo City Commission unanimously approved $883,000 to fund the expansion of three youth development programs offered by the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The programs that will benefit are Supervised Playground, All Things Possible, and Summer Youth Employment programs.

The Supervised Playground Program and All Things Possible were offered as pilot programs in 2016, and the Summer Youth Employment program has been offered since 2005 in partnership with Youth Opportunities Unlimited. These programs support the goal of the City Commission and the Foundation for Excellence to promote youth development and shared prosperity by keeping youth engaged in the summer months through  learning, career exploration, work experience and employment. All three have proven successful and meet demonstrated needs in our community.

“We’re really excited to be able to expand these programs to more of Kalamazoo’s youth this year,” said Sean Fletcher, Director of Parks & Recreation for the City.  “We never want to have to turn kids away from opportunities to learn, explore their interests, or even just play in a safe environment. These types of programs cultivate skills and provide experience that helps create a path toward future success. “


March 27, 2017: On March 27, the Commission met to explore poverty reduction, shared prosperity, and youth development in Kalamazoo. Dr. Tim Ready, Associate Professor of Sociology at Western Michigan University and Director of the Lewis Walker Institute provided background on current conditions in the City to begin the discussion. Assistant City Manager Laura Lam then led a discussion on the efforts of the Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo Initiative and other organizations that are working together to address these issues through employee resource networks, prisoner reentry programs, affordable housing, and financial literacy programs. Many of these strategies were also identified by community members through the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 process. 

The work session concluded with a presentation by Kalamazoo Parks & Recreation which highlighted programs that have made an impact in these areas. The All Things Possible, Supervised Playground, and Summer Youth Employment programs were featured with the hope of building upon their success in 2017 and opening these opportunities to more youth. Funding for their expansion is up for consideration by the City Commission at its April 3 meeting. 


March 1, 2017: The City Commission Retreat scheduled for this Saturday, March 4 has been cancelled. The Foundation For Excellence was to be a main topic of discussion and members of the City Commission and City Officials agreed that additional work was necessary before bringing additional details forward.

“In this first year of the Foundation For Excellence, it is critically important that we not only choose the right projects and programs to realize our vision for Kalamazoo’s future, but that we set up the FFE for long-term success from the beginning,” said City Manager Jim Ritsema. “In discussions with the City Commission, we concluded that more time was needed to achieve these goals and that it was appropriate to cancel this weekend’s retreat.”

City staff will continue working with the City Commission and subject matter experts to establish the legal framework and processes for the Foundation, including the processes for directing the use of funds.

Despite the cancellation of this retreat, the Foundation For Excellence is expected to be a regular topic at City Commission meetings and future work sessions.  A City Commission retreat may still be held later this year. 

More information on the Foundation For Excellence is available at www.kalamazoocity.org/foundation. Information about the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 community visioning process, which will influence the investment of FFE resources, is available at www.imaginekalamazoo.com


January 23, 2017: The Kalamazoo City Commission convened on January 23 to examine how projects and programs will be selected for funding by the Foundation For Excellence. City officials presented a clearer definition of what the term "aspirational" means in relation to potential FFE programs, and demonstrated how proposals will be evaluated. A scoring process takes into account each project or proposal's impact on community results, as well as other attributes such as the portion of the community served, community partnerships involved, and the readiness of the project/program for implementation. The priorities of the City Commission also are a factor; proposals that align with their prioritized community results will be favored in the selection process. 

With 2017 being the first year of the Foundation For Excellence, the selection process for projects and programs is being created as plans are made for this year. A pdf draft summary of potential goals (106 KB) was provided at the January 23 work session which draws on the input obtained through the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 process. A variety of goals are included in the draft such as increasing the quantity of affordable housing, creating safer streets through traffic calming, improving and encouraging non-motorized commuting, expanding opportunities for youth employment & career exploration, and increasing community policing efforts. 

The City Commission will continue discussing the Foundation For Excellence at their annual retreat on Saturday, March 4 at 8:30 a.m. in the Governing Board Room at Metro Transit (530 N Rose St). During the retreat proposed 2017 projects and programs will be presented, and the Commission will discuss 2017 priorities. 

You can view the presentation slides pdf here (1.49 MB) and the draft of potential Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 goals pdf here (106 KB) .


October 24, 2016: At a Special Work Session Held on October 24, the Kalamazoo City Commission voted to approve an initial agreement for the creation of the proposed Foundation For Excellence.

The agreement is outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Kalamazoo and the Foundation's lead donors. After it was introduced on July 28, the City Commission directed City Manager Jim Ritsema to continue developing the Foundation For Excellence model and bring a proposal to the Commission for review. This MOU is the first step in that process and will provide a basis for the more detailed work to come.

The MOU states that the donors agree to provide a donation of $70.3 million over the next three years; to generate support and contributions from additional donors for the Foundation for Excellence; to promote and support a goal of having the Foundation fully endowed within three years.

The City agrees to create a separate City-controlled fund to receive the initial donation; to create the non-profit Foundation for Excellence entity by August 31, 2017 into which the donation and future contributions will be deposited; to develop a budget for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019 that incorporates a 12 mill tax rate; to allocate $10 million in each of those years to aspirational projects for youth development & poverty reduction, investments in capital and human infrastructure, and neighborhood improvement projects; to continue exploring further budgetary savings through shared services; and to develop best practices and measures to demonstrate the impact of the donation, efforts, and initiatives.

Rob Collier, the President and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations, attended the October 17 City Commission meeting to offer suggestions for the development of the Foundation For Excellence, and also provided advice in a Letter to Mayor Hopewell and City Manager Jim Ritsema. City Officials will continue consulting with other foundations and subject matter experts to ensure the Foundation is structured in the optimal way to benefit all members of our community in perpetuity.

City Officials will now begin establishing the legal rules that will govern and regulate the activities of the Foundation. The final plan will be returned to the City Commission for approval before the Foundation For Excellence is officially created.


October 18, 2016: A formal agreement between the City of Kalamazoo and initial backers of the proposed Foundation for Excellence will be the topic of a City Commission Work Session to be held Monday, October 24. Commissioners will review a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines the agreement and could vote on the Memorandum that evening. The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. at Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Anna Whitten Hall, 202 N Rose Street.

In July, the City Commission directed City Manager Jim Ritsema to continue developing the Foundation for Excellence model and to bring a proposal to the City Commission for review. This Memorandum formally outlines the commitments, intentions, and expectations of all parties.

The MOU states that the donors agree to provide a donation of $70.3 million over the next three years; to generate support and contributions from additional donors for the Foundation for Excellence; to promote and support a goal of having the Foundation fully endowed within three years. 

The City agrees to create a separate City-controlled fund to receive the initial donation; to create the non-profit Foundation for Excellence entity by August 31, 2017 into which the donation and future contributions will be deposited; to develop a budget for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019 that incorporates a 12 mill tax rate; to allocate $10 million in each of those years to aspirational projects for youth development & poverty reduction, investments in capital and human infrastructure, and neighborhood improvement projects; to continue exploring further budgetary savings through shared services; and to develop best practices and measures to demonstrate the impact of the donation, efforts, and initiatives.

The meeting will be streamed live on the City’s Facebook page for those who are not able to attend in person. The draft Memorandum of Understanding is available pdf here (149 KB) .

Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell and City Manager Jim Ritsema will be available for interviews in advance of this work session. Media inquiries should be directed to the City Manager’s Office at (269) 337-8047.

pdf Foundation for Excellence Memorandum of Understanding (149 KB)


September 7, 2016: A survey of Kalamazoo residents conducted in August revealed strong community support for the Foundation for Excellence concept and an overall favorable view of the direction the City is heading.

80% of respondents were supportive of the Foundation for Excellence proposal, with consistent support across all demographics. 74% of respondents felt things in Kalamazoo are heading in the right direction, with only 20% responding that the City is on the wrong track.

Washington D.C. based Lake Research Partners designed and administered the survey, which was conducted by professional interviewers over telephone. The survey reached a total of 400 citizens in the City of Kalamazoo from August 9 through August 14. Telephone numbers for this survey were drawn using file audits and the sample was stratified geographically to reflect the population of Kalamazoo. The margin of error for the survey is +/-4.9%.

City officials initiated the survey to gain a better understanding of opinions on the Foundation for Excellence proposal and what aspects are important to Kalamazoo residents.

“These results are encouraging and reflect much of what we have been hearing, but I understand that some members of our community still have concerns,” said City Manager Jim Ritsema, “We are consulting with experts and foundations with similar purposes to ensure best practices are incorporated as we work on the details. I look forward to sharing them with the community as they take shape, and am confident that these concerns will be alleviated by the final proposal.”

City Officials may bring a Memorandum of Understanding for formal review by the City Commission as early as the September 19 meeting.


July 28, 2016: Along with an update on revenue options currently in progress, City Manager Jim Ritsema introduced a new alternative at a work session held July 28 which would take a philanthropic approach to solving the City’s budget shortfalls.

The newly introduced option calls for the creation of the Foundation for Excellence, a new private-public partnership funded by area philanthropists, institutions, and anyone in our community who may wish to contribute. Once fully endowed, the foundation would provide resources to the City of Kalamazoo in perpetuity that will be used to stabilize the City budget, improve regional collaboration, provide tax relief for city residents, and most importantly fund key investments to create a vibrant, forward-looking community that benefits everyone. These investments would be driven by Imagine Kalamazoo 2025, the City’s master plan update process in which planning staff have been working closely with residents, community groups, and area organizations to create a unified vision for Kalamazoo’s future.

“This is a major opportunity for Kalamazoo,” said Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell. “This option not only offers a solution to our structural revenue problems, but also provides tax relief for city residents and still creates the opportunity for significantly more investment in our city and its people.”

Enough commitments have been secured to begin the process as early as 2017. $70.3 million has already been committed by donors to provide, over a three year period, support for the creation of the Foundation, with a goal of having it fully endowed within that three year timeframe. During this period, these commitments will stabilize the City’s budget, allow for an immediate reduction in city property tax rates by more than a third, and allow for substantially more investment in programs for youth, ending generational poverty, neighborhoods, place-making projects, streets & infrastructure, targeted economic development, and other initiatives.

The Foundation for Excellence would allow for the city property tax rate in Kalamazoo to be reduced by more than a third from 19.2705 mills to 12 mills, making investment in the city more regionally competitive. The long-term goal is to achieve a reduction to 10 mills.

“City staff have been working diligently to implement all feasible recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Revenue Panel,” said City Manager Jim Ritsema. “During our work, this exciting, innovative solution began to take shape. The initial commitments from many local philanthropists made this a real option.”

Funding for the foundation would be sought from a broad base of donors under a clear legal framework to ensure that Kalamazoo’s elected leaders will independently direct the use of funds, as they do with all City funding.

In addition to this exciting new solution, the city is continuing to explore additional revenue options to further shore up its budget, including the creation of a countywide emergency dispatch center that is expected to save the city $2 million annually if successful.

The City Commission gave City Manager Ritsema direction to move ahead and to craft the necessary legal documents to create the Foundation of Excellence. The City Commission will take formal action to officially create the Foundation for Excellence after the documents are prepared, which should occur before the end of the year.

“The Kalamazoo Promise has shown us what is possible when we, as a community, ask ourselves, ‘What can we do for our community? What can we do to address a challenge?’” said Mayor Hopewell. “This will provide an opportunity for this community to unite around a common vision to truly make Kalamazoo a city of promise.”

For additional information or to share your thoughts on this innovative new solution, please visit the City of Kalamazoo’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kalamazoocity. You can share your input for Kalamazoo's future at any time thoughout the Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 project by visiting www.imaginekalamazoo.com. The work session presentation and a fact sheet on the Foundation for Excellence are available below. 

  Foundation for Excellence Presentation

  Foundation for Excellence Fact Sheet

  Special Meeting of the Kalamazoo, City Commission, July 28, 2016