A digital series for the social sector

At the Johnson Center, we understand philanthropy as an ecosystem — one filled with co-dependent actors and organizations whose work is fundamentally grounded in a love for humanity. Nonprofits and funders, individual donors and volunteers — we are one sector, with common interests and common challenges.

But it isn’t always easy to find common space to dive into the issues and ideas that affect us all in different ways. Field Focus is our answer to this challenge, to empower our networks by bringing practitioners, thought leaders, and issue experts together around one theme.

For each Field Focus campaign, we devote three months to engaging with particular topics and concepts that are important to philanthropy — all of philanthropy — right now.

Field Focus: Inclusive Strategies for Prosperity

September/October/November 2019

While the U.S. economy has been on the upswing since 2009, that prosperity is not shared by all. “Business as usual” is not working for everyone.

Moved by widespread concern about the scale and consequences of economic inequity — which is itself driven by many factors, including disparities in housing, education, and health — many cross-sector leaders are turning to new strategies to tackle this challenge.

In Field Focus: Inclusive Strategies for Prosperity, we focus especially on the strategy of inclusive growth, while also lifting up resources for growing your ability to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy.

Nonprofits and funders can be a substantial driver for prosperity in communities by supporting strategies for economic inclusion and access. For the next three months, we’ll explore factors that make up a healthy local and regional economy that strives to be inclusive and promotes innovation. We will consider the role that donors, foundations, and nonprofits can play in creating a regional inclusive growth ecosystem.


Johnson Center staff and guest bloggers from partner organizations nationwide explore philanthropy’s role in inclusive economic development and community prosperity.

New Report Illustrates the Status of Latinx Communities in Kent County, Mich.
Photo: Rachel Borashkoby Rachel Borashko

Our Community Data & Research Lab recently published its Latinx Data Report, based on responses to the VoiceKent 2017 and VoiceGR 2016 surveys. Rachel Borashko shares her team’s research findings which highlight disparities among Latinx communities — the fastest growing demographic in the greater Grand Rapids area — and other racial/ethnic populations here in Kent County, Mich.

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The Power of Investing in People: 6 Lessons from the Detroit Innovation Fellowship
Photo: Pam Lewisby Pam Lewis

Pamela Lewis, director of the New Economy Initiative, shares how her organization learned valuable lessons from its partners in launching the Detroit Innovation Fellowship. The program, now in its second year, identifies, connects, and invests in local innovators working to address neighborhood challenges faced by Detroit residents.

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Concrete Strategies are Emerging for Implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Principles
Photo: Juan R. Olivarez, Ph.D.by Juan Olivarez

In this piece from our 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2019 report, Dr. Juan Olivarez highlights three specific efforts to operationalize DEI principles within the social sector: a focus on talent pipelines, investment in inclusive economy models, and the application of more equitable evaluation practices within foundations and nonprofits.

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7 Resources to Guide Your Work Toward Inclusive Growth
Photo: Kahler Sweeneyby Kahler Sweeney

Kahler Sweeney shares a collection of resources that he and Dr. Juan Olivarez have found helpful in challenging their presumptions about inclusive growth — about the nature of inclusive growth itself, the role of philanthropy in achieving inclusive growth, or the finer points of achieving equity through collaboration.

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Inclusive Growth Communities: New Strategies for Prosperity
Photo: Juan R. Olivarez, Ph.D.by Juan Olivarez

While the U.S. economy has been on the upswing since 2009, that prosperity is not shared by all. “Business as usual” is not working for everyone. Juan Olivarez explores strategies for inclusive growth and practices which allow more people share in the rewards of a growing economy and community.

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Advancing Nonprofit Diversity: A Call to Action for Funders and Nonprofits
Photo: Juan R. Olivarez, Ph.D.by Juan Olivarez

Juan Olivarez dives into a 2018 report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, “Nonprofit Diversity Efforts: Current Practices and the Role of Foundations,” and shares his two key takeaways: 1) Continued evidence shows that funders need to advance their efforts to assist nonprofits in diversifying their boards and staff, and 2) Nonprofit boards and CEOs need to place a higher priority on diversifying their organizations.

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Inclusivity Means Asking the Right Questions
Photo: Jodi PetersenPhoto: Jason Franklin, Ph.D.by Jason Franklin and Jodi Petersen

Data-informed decision making is becoming an ever-stronger practice in philanthropy, but nonprofits, funders, and evaluators are paying more attention to how data is collected and making sure that collection, analysis, and dissemination methods promote inclusivity and take cultural differences into account. Only when these efforts are in place is it reasonable to expect effective actions and real impact for marginalized communities, as data will finally reflect the experiences they face.

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Philanthropy’s Quest for Equity
Photo: Juan R. Olivarez, Ph.D.by Juan Olivarez

Huge demographic shifts are taking place in the United States that will require the development of new tools and strategies that will allow the field of philanthropy to effectively address equity issues and impact change. Juan Olivarez explains how these shifts will have profound ramifications for local communities and the national landscape if equity in access to health, education and the workforce is not achieved.

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Free Lunch & Learn!

Developing a Community With Inclusive Growth

Developing a Community with Inclusive Growth // Part of our FREE Brown Bag Lunch & Learn series

Economic growth does not always translate into shared prosperity. Many of our neighbors still struggle to find opportunities, stability, and security for themselves and their families. In this workshop, we’ll explore how our region’s economic development organizations can harness tools and partnerships to facilitate more inclusive growth, in tandem with other institutions and systems in Grand Rapids.

Monday, November 4
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Johnson Center for Philanthropy

Guest Speakers:

  • Brad Comment, Vice President of Investor Relations, The Right Place
  • Cindy Brown, Vice President of Talent Initiatives, The Right Place
  • Juan Olivarez, Ph.D., Distinguished Scholar in Residents for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Johnson Center
This event has passed.

Special Presentations

Inclusive Growth Communities: New Strategies for Prosperity (live event)

On September 23, 2019, the ECON Club of Grand Rapids hosted a presentation by Dr. Juan Olivarez, the Johnson Center’s Distinguished Scholar in Residence for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The presentation highlighted the importance and innovation of inclusive growth initiatives in communities, and a panel discussion featuring three Michigan mayors brought the topic home to our state. Johnson Center executive director Dr. Teresa Behrens moderated a conversation among Rosalynn Bliss, Mayor of Grand Rapids; Bobby Hopewell, Mayor of Kalamazoo; and Andy Schor, Mayor of Lansing.

Watch the Video on YouTube
Toward Inclusive Growth Communities: A Short Documentary

While the U.S. economy has been on the upswing since 2009, that prosperity is not shared by all. “Business as usual” is not working for everyone. Moved by widespread concern about the scale and consequences of disparity, many urban and regional leaders nationally are pushing action. They’re leading the charge and turning to a new strategy — inclusive growth — to tackle the challenge. In this video, Tim Bartik from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research guides viewers on a tour of what the data — and the next generation — have to tell us about economic opportunity in Michigan.

Watch the Video on YouTube

Professional Education

Workshop participants at the Johnson Center

There is a distinct need in philanthropy for opportunities to learn and to identify the resources we need to evolve our practice and respond to changing environments. Sharpen the skills you need to pursue your mission with confidence.

Leadership Lab Series: Building a Culture of Inclusive Leadership

The Leadership Lab Series is designed to help you elevate your workplace practice and grow your capacity for strong, adaptive leadership. Each session of this three-part series is presented in partnership with Grand Valley State University’s Inclusion and Equity Institute. (Registration closes 09/05/19)

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Advancing Equity: A Case Study

In this course, we’ll explore a case study from the Kresge Foundation’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity initiative. You’ll come away with a deeper knowledge of what it takes to connect grantmaking and equity for the empowerment and benefit of marginalized communities. (Registration closes 01/10/20)

Learn More & Register

The Foundation Review

The Foundation Review (covers)

Explore peer-reviewed reports, evaluation results, tools, and book reviews aimed at improving your impact in The Foundation Review, the Johnson Center’s quarterly journal on philanthropy.

Full Issues
Vol. 10, Issue 4: Inclusive Community Change

Approaching the work of community change with a mindset of genuine partnership is a basic requirement for inclusive change. In this issue of The Foundation Review, explore models, tools, and reflections from grantmaking professionals engaged in the work of creating more inclusive philanthropy.

Explore the Issue
Vol. 6, Issue 1: Racial Equity

While many can agree that all people should have the opportunity to live, work and contribute their assets to the greater good, there are divergent ideas about the barriers facing communities of color in reaching this aspiration as well as strategies to overcome them. This issue contains articles written by leaders in the field of philanthropy who are taking on the “necessary and important” work towards achieving racial equity.

Explore the Issue

Individual Articles
Navigating Donor Intent and New Models for Equity

A Visionary Organization: From Donor Intent to New Horizons of Race and Gender Equity uses the Leeway Foundation — funding women, trans, and gender nonconforming artists working for social change — as a case study for foundations that wish to respect donor intent while incorporating models of racial and gender equity.

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An Evaluation of the Denver Foundation’s Inclusiveness Project

The Denver Foundation’s Inclusiveness Project aimed to help nonprofits and funders become more inclusive of people of color. In How Inclusion and Equity Are Transforming a Foundation and a Community, recounts this project’s outcomes, including increases in the number of people of color interested in nonprofit careers, the number of organizations incorporating inclusiveness in policies and practices, and the funding community’s awareness of disparities.

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A Case Study of San Diego’s Market Creek Community

Activating the Power of Place: A Case Study of Market Creek tells the story of a placed-based initiative to develop well-being and wealth in the historically underserved Diamond Neighborhood in San Diego. The article discusses the place-based philosophy of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation and the foundation’s motivation for place-based work.

Read the Article and Watch the Author Video
A Primer for Philanthropy on Racial Equity Work

The Urgency of Now: Foundations’ Role in Ending Racial Inequity explores the multiple approaches that foundations can use to advance racial equity and prosperity. The article also traces the long history of institutional racism, the evolving role of philanthropy in addressing poverty, and the depth of the challenge that our communities face in racial disparities.

Read the Article and Watch the Author Video
A Multi-Dimensional Framework for Community Foundations

Models of Social Change: Community Foundations and Agenda Setting focuses on a particular approach to large-scale, community-based educational change — Local College Access Networks in the state of Michigan — to answer two key questions: What factors serve to shape the social-change agenda? And how can community foundations serve to promote and advance that agenda?

Read the Article and Watch the Webinar
A Philanthropic Collaborative to Support Transit Equity

Integrating Funders into a Multisector Transit-Equity Collaborative: Lessons From the Field examines the efforts of Mile High Connects, a collaborative working to ensure that the Denver region’s $7.8 billion transit project benefits low-income communities and communities of color by connecting them to affordable housing, healthy environments, quality education, and good-paying jobs.

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Long-Term Investments in Economic Opportunity

Generative philanthropy is an incremental, decentralized approach to investment in communities. Generative Philanthropy: Long-Term Investments in Economic Opportunity offers five examples of the approach related to economic opportunity, and draws lessons for future practice.

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Equity in Practice for Philanthropy

According to the authors of Looking in the Mirror: Equity in Practice for Philanthropy, it is impossible for a foundation to effectively fund with an equity lens unless it commits to doing its own internal work. This article describes the efforts of three foundations in various stages of seeing themselves through an equity lens: Consumer Health Foundation, The Colorado Trust, and Interact for Health.

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Economic Development Philanthropy

Economic development philanthropy requires that foundations act to fill gaps that other organizations or agencies are missing. A New Domain for Place-Rooted Foundations: Economic Development Philanthropy highlights the important system-actor role that foundations can and are playing to advance economic development that produces better outcomes for families and communities.

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Embedding Racial Equity in Foundations

Integrating Racial Equity in Foundation Governance, Operations, and Program Strategy follows the story of the Washington-based Consumer Health Foundation. When CHF became a staffed foundation in 1998, it initially focused on health promotion and access to health care. As a learning organization, however, it took steps that led to greater support for efforts addressing the interconnectedness between health status and racial equity.

Read the Article and Watch the Author Video

Author Videos

Hear directly from the authors of articles relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion:

Additional author videos may be found within the individual articles listed above, and on the Johnson Center’s YouTube channel.