Mott Foundation pledges $1 million to Flint grants, seeks community input to allocate dollars

FLINT, Michigan—For nearly a hundred years, the Mott Foundation has been a philanthropic giant within the community, but with their new effort, dubbed Focus on Flint, the foundation is wading into uncharted territory. The foundation will commit $1 million to address neighborhood improvements, safety and blight in Flint throughout the next year — but it is the community that will decide where to direct those funds. 

“We’re hands off,” Mott Foundation President Ridgway H. White said at a community meeting Nov. 9 designed to gather more input from residents on where to invest funds.

The grant pledge is an extension of the Focus on Flint effort launched earlier this year by the Mott Foundation. It is part of an effort to push its longstanding "shoe leather philanthropy" model a step further and allow for grants to be more driven by community input.

“This process is really about connecting to residents on the ground to understand what they’re doing, so that with this million dollars they’ll be guiding our entire grant-making process,” White said.

Over the course of several months, the foundation surveyed 900 residents throughout the city inquiring about quality of life in Flint. After hundreds of in-person surveys and additional ones online, as well as 28 community conversations, they found four areas of concern: neighborhood improvements, safety, economic development and education.

There is still time to offer ideas as to how the money for Flint neighborhoods will be shaped into grants. Anyone who lives or works in Flint can visit and submit suggestions. The website will be open until Nov. 30, 2019, after which the Mott Foundation will analyze each idea and formulate grants to meet those needs.

The Mott Foundation also announced it would conduct yearly follow-up surveys to check in with how the yet-to-be decided grants are impacting the community.

Ideas for grants shared at the Nov. 9 forum included repairing every sidewalk, partnerships for repairs that would create job opportunities, and offsetting the cost of land bank properties through a sponsorship program. 

Attorney Charis Lee, who owns a home in the north side of Flint, suggested something more simple.

“It’s not always about these grand designs,” Lee said. “We would just like our trash picked up every week. In my neighborhood, we just want to feel like people with regular problems, not these everyday things we shouldn’t have adding to all the other stresses of life.”

White said he is excited to see where the residents will take this new granting opportunity.

“We could end up granting $90,000 to each ward or a $100,000 grant for an organization that may then re-grant it down to $5,000 and $10,000 grants,” White said. "We just don’t know.”

Every year, the foundation receives around 2,000 unsolicited grant proposals, which doesn’t even include those ideas that spring from conversations between the people of the community and foundation members.

“We’re one of the few foundations in the country that has an open grant application process,” said White. “We’ll accept suggestions on the back of an envelope.”

Read more articles by Ashley Schafer.