The longtime former president of the C.S. Mott Foundation died on Wednesday just two days after making an impassioned speech at the Council of Michigan Foundations’ annual conference.
White’s father-in-law, C.S. Harding Mott, hired White, his son-in-law of eight years as a consultant in 1969 to modernize the foundation’s administrative functions. With that, the die was cast. In 1971, White was named vice president and secretary of the foundation and was elected to its board of trustees, later to become president and CEO. When he died, he was still the board’s chair—a half-century of service, over which time the Foundation transformed from a local funder to an international funder and grew its assets from $377 million to $3 billion.
The death notice from the foundation recognized his signature style of grantmaking:
As a grantmaker, White built a reputation for seeking out solid, well-managed organizations and funding them to create infrastructure and sustainability in key sectors. He recognized that the stubbornness and complexity of the issues we seek to address means that they will not be resolved overnight. He often said that having patience and taking a “long view” are essential for meaningful, sustainable change to take root. And he embraced Charles Stewart Mott’s belief that good things happen when people work in partnership with their communities.
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The possibility of failure never prevented White from taking calculated risks, and many paid off—none more than his offer of $5 million to seed and support the federal government’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative. Mott’s support helped build the fledgling, bipartisan effort to keep children safe after school into a highly regarded national program that now provides high-quality enrichment and academic programming for 1.7 million children each year.
White was known as an institution builder, both internationally and domestically. The governance of organizations was of great importance to him, especially in the charitable sector. He supported good practice and transparency in philanthropy, and he believed foundations must be accountable for the assets they have at their disposal and responsible for using them for purposes intended by the donor.
The recipient of many honors, perhaps none more gratifying to him than the Council on Foundation’s Distinguished Grantmaker Award in 2002, White also received The European Foundation Centre’s first-ever Philanthropy Compass Prize in 2009; the Beacon Award for Services to Community Philanthropy from the Community Foundation Network in the UK in 2010; and the Republic of Poland’s Officer’s Cross of Merit award for his contributions to the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe.
Bill White had an influence on philanthropy that extended far beyond the realm of the C.S. Mott Foundation. He will be long remembered. Our deepest sympathies go out to his wide circle of family and friends.—Ruth McCambridge
Disclosure: NPQ is a C.S. Mott grantee.