Who We Are
Cities are powerful vehicles of change.
They offer a concentration of activities, skills and ideas that can circulate, ricochet and recombine to create the preconditions for innovation. The complex, integrated networks and diverse subcultures in cities are conducive to dismantling tired approaches to problems in favor of new or reimagined approaches.
Cities offer a concentration of assets that can contribute to expanded opportunity.
- Inherent diversity and tolerance.
- The civic commons of waterfronts, parks, libraries and public spaces.
- Educational, cultural, entertainment, research and healthcare anchors.
- Physical and social infrastructures that foster the density, closeness and sense of history that’s characteristic of the nation’s great places.
Cities are manageable units of governance, amenable to philanthropic engagement.
Municipal problem-solving is being driven less by centralized governance from City Hall and more by widely distributed leadership comprising the philanthropic, private, civic and public sectors. Having a wide range of players encourages systematic thinking, with each partner contributing knowledge, talent, financial resources or influence.
The Kresge Foundation is a private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America's cities through grantmaking and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services and community development in Detroit.
In collaboration with our nonprofit, public, private and philanthropic partners, we help create pathways for people with low income to improve their life circumstances and join the economic mainstream.
“Creating opportunity for people with low income is a hallmark of our work at The Kresge Foundation,” says Rip Rapson, president and CEO. “Our programs reflect the inflection points where we think we can actually make a difference in the life trajectories of people who are poor, disadvantaged or underserved in fundamental ways.”
Established by Sebastian S. Kresge in 1924: To promote human progress.
“The brilliance of Sebastian Kresge is best exhibited in his guiding wish that the foundation ‘promote human progress.’ It is the responsibility of the board and staff to interpret his maxim and to take the foundation where it needs to go to be relevant in the 21st century. Redefining ourselves as a strategic philanthropy represents our efforts to fulfill this responsibility.”
ELaine D. Rosen, chairwoman, kresge board of trustees
These five values shape who we are as an organization and guide how we work – with each other and with our many grantees and partners.
How we manage our resources
We commit to exhibiting the highest levels of integrity, humility, excellence, and an abiding sense of responsibility in acting as stewards of the human, reputational, and financial resources entrusted to us to advance the foundation’s mission and to animate the credo of our founder, Sebastian Kresge to leave “the world a better place than we found it.”
How we treat one another
We will treat with respect every staff member, and everyone with whom we work, valuing each person’s distinctive background, personal style, and perspectives, while displaying honesty, dignity, kindness, trust, and collegiality in all of our interactions with one another.
How we approach our work
We will embrace experimentation, reasoned risk-taking, and continuous improvement, recognizing that we must balance support for proven and effective approaches with the pursuit of new approaches that, although unproven, hold the promise of breaking through stale or unproductive approaches to the seemingly intractable challenges our society faces.
How we work with others
We will actively seek out and embrace opportunities to partner and support others to devise and implement solutions, recognizing that by cooperating, coordinating, and aligning with others and one another we will leverage collective experience, insight, networks, and resources to more effectively advance the foundation’s mission to promote human progress.
How we seek to improve the lives of low-income people living in America’s cities and how we invest in our staff
Through the work of our programs and partnerships, we will deploy an array of grantmaking and investing tools to expand opportunities for low-income people living in America’s cities so that they may improve their life circumstance and join the economic mainstream.
We will foster a workplace environment and culture in which staff members have the opportunity to express their talents and ambitions, be acknowledged and rewarded for their achievements, grow in their effectiveness and careers, and see their efforts reflected in a strengthened sense of common purpose.
In 1924, with an initial gift of $1.6 million, Sebastian Spering Kresge established The Kresge Foundation in Detroit. He did this to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the S.S. Kresge Company, which began as a single five-and-10-cent store – a revolutionary merchandising idea at the time – and grew into a nationwide chain of stores. Many years later, the enterprise became known as Kmart Corp.
Mr. Kresge chaired the first foundation board meeting and then served as treasurer until his death in 1966, at age 99. By then, he had contributed $60.5 million to the foundation. All along, he maintained a steadfast commitment to charitable giving.
For more than 80 years, his mandate to promote human progress was realized through the support of fundraising campaigns to build capital projects – libraries, hospitals, schools, museums, community centers and the like – that, over the years, have contributed to the creation of the nation’s nonprofit infrastructure. The Kresge challenge grant created community excitement, spurred the growth of a nonprofit’s donor base, and helped the organization reach its fundraising goal.
“Giving away money is not an easy job. Money alone cannot build character or transform evil into good; it cannot restore the influence and vitality of the home; neither can it maintain the valleys and plains of peace. Spent alone, it might as well stay in the vaults…It cries for full partnership with leaders of character and good will.”
SEBASTIAN SPERING KRESGE
The Kresge Foundation today
In 2006, we embarked on a multiyear transition to redefine ourselves for the needs of the 21st century. What resulted – and is in full operation now – is a strategic philanthropy. We view issues in their entirety, take measured risk, and employ an array of grantmaking and social investing tools to help expand opportunities for low-income people living in cities.
Our programs and their specific strategic objectives emanate from the disciplines in which we have traditionally worked: arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit.
Since our founding, improving the life circumstances for low-income, underserved adults and children has been our constant philanthropic focus. In 2012 we narrowed our geographic focus to the nation’s cities. More than 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in and around cities. Working in them offers us the greatest potential to assist the largest groups of people experiencing hardship and poverty.
Ongoing Kresge family involvement
Mr. Kresge established The Kresge Foundation in 1924 and since then the Kresge family has provided guidance and inspiration for the private philanthropy. Following Mr. Kresge's tenure on the board of trustees, which ended with his death in 1966, his son Stanley S. Kresge assumed the chairmanship of the board. Since then, descendants have had continuous representation on the board, including grandson Bruce A. Kresge and great granddaughters Deborah McDowell, Katherine Lutey and Susan Drewes. Cynthia Kresge, another great granddaughter, is currently serving as a trustee.