Philanthropy as Team Sport: $1.2B Spend-down Foundation to Serve Detroit and Buffalo

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October 1, 2016; Detroit Free Press

A brand new billion-dollar foundation focused on Buffalo and Detroit will spend down its assets in 20 years or less.

Ralph C. Wilson, who died in 2014 and for whom the foundation is named, left $1.2 billion to be given away (down to the last penny) by his closest friends, who he felt would understand his interests and intentions. Wilson was a resident of Detroit and he owned the Buffalo Bills Football team. Before that, Wilson was one of the founding owners of the American Football League (AFL), the league with which the NFL merged in 1970.

The areas where grants will be made sound broad—children and youth, young adults and working class families, caregivers, and healthy communities—but we are particularly interested in how the commitments to caregivers and working-class families will be evinced, since those reveal a bit more specificity.

One notable element of the foundation’s program going forward is its intention to work in a respectful way with what already exists. It will encourage innovation and impact, but does not, like some of its big-money counterparts, want to take off on its own to do so. Philanthropy, the website says, is a team sport.—Ruth McCambridge