Greater Milwaukee Foundation goes public with $700 million philanthropic campaign

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The Greater Milwaukee Foundation went public Friday with a multi-year $700 million philanthropic campaign, for which it has already raised $500 million.

In what leaders say is one of the foundation’s most ambitious undertakings to date, the comprehensive campaign spans 2017 to 2023. Its public period will now focus on engaging more donors around its campaign goal of addressing systemic racial disparities related to housing, health, education and economic opportunity.

“We think this is exactly the right moment (to go public), not only because we have demonstrated that people really want to support our vision and this is an important strategic vision for the broader community, but also (it’s an) opportunity to invite a much broader cross-section of the community to join us,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and chief executive officer of GMF.

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GMF plans to dedicate $50 million in campaign funds to five priority areas: $11 million for the ThriveOn Collaboration, its effort with the Medical College of Wisconsin and Royal Capital Group to redevelop the former Gimbel & Schuster’s building in Milwaukee’s Bronzeville district into a center that will focus on addressing social determinants of health; $6 million for early childhood care and education; $2 million to increase access to affordable housing; $10 million for its impact investing model; and $21 million for flexible funding to meet pressing needs in the community.

Left unaddressed, each of those areas will continue to be inhibitors to the region’s prosperity, particularly among Black and brown communities, GMF leaders said.

“They represent the critical issues in the community based on research, community insight, our board and leadership’s vision, and the tools needed to drive impact,” said Fiesha Lynn Bell, associate director of major gifts for the foundation.

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GMF’s campaign goals reflect its evolving role as a community foundation, from a manager of gifts and grant-maker to its more recent iteration as a convener and community leader. Its commitment in 2016 to racial equity and inclusion prompted a shift within the organization that has influenced its program areas, grant-making and advocacy work.

The comprehensive campaign will support GMF’s efforts to put its racial equity commitments into practice on a larger scale, leaders said.

“The campaign is an opportunity to … invite more people across the community to join us in advancing and fulfilling our vision of ‘A Milwaukee for All,’” said Gilligan.

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One of its most visible projects, GMF’s ThriveOn Collaboration is moving forward, Gilligan said. Construction is expected to begin soon for the $100 million redevelopment of the building at 2153 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Gilligan said leaders have spent the past year in conversation with community members to help inform the plans for the space.

When completed, the building will house GMF’s new headquarters, a hub for MCW’s community engagement programs, an early childhood learning center and affordable housing.

In addition to its own early childhood center at ThriveOn, the foundation plans to invest in other centers throughout the city, as well as the recruitment and retention of the early childhood education workforce.

“As we take a look at our $6 million philanthropic goal for this priority, it’s a generational investment. We believe it will stabilize the sector,” Lynn Bell said.

GMF is also supporting efforts to increase affordable housing access throughout the community. It’s a founding member of the Community Development Alliance, a collaboration of funders and nonprofits dedicated to that same goal.

GMF said it plans to align and streamline over 20 existing housing programs, increase affordability for renters, increase homeownership for Black and brown families, and prevent displacement in developing neighborhoods.

The largest portion of the campaign’s priority areas, GMF plans to dedicate $21 million in flexible funds, which is money it can use to address immediate needs in the community as they arise.

“(Those funds) will help us be better prepared for the COVID-19s of the future,” Lynn Bell said.

The foundation is also looking to bolster its impact investing program, which funnels investments into projects that address social needs, create jobs and build wealth. For example, GMF used that funding mechanism to provide the Sherman Phoenix with its first mortgage financing to renovate the former BMO Harris Bank branch into what would become a north side entrepreneurial hub.

Donors can contribute to the campaign by starting or growing a fund, investing specifically in its campaign priority areas or making a planned gift.

While many civic and nonprofit groups have significant fundraising campaigns underway soliciting philanthropic dollars, Gilligan said she’s confident the foundation will be “tremendously successful” in reaching the finish line of its campaign goal.

“The vision that we have put forward, people are extremely excited about it, and it resonates with a broad cross-section of the community,” Gilligan said. “… These are not the foundation’s priorities, these are the community’s priorities.”

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