GM Foundation Refocusing On STEM

June 13, 2017       Mark Hrywna      

After 30 years as a traditional corporate foundation, the General Motors Foundation is evolving its corporate philanthropy into one more aligned with its business units and employees around the world.

Since it was incorporated in 1976, the GM Foundation has donated almost $1 billion to charities, educational organizations and disaster relief efforts worldwide. The organization last year began transitioning from a U.S.-focused, foundation-based giving model to a “global social impact strategy to promote economic growth around the world,” according to GM’s Giving Back website.

The strategy will advance STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, improve vehicle and road safety and build sustainable communities “with a special focus where GM has business units and employee presence around the world.”

A message left with GM Foundation was not returned by press time.

The transition to GM Philanthropy and Corporate Giving started after Jackie Parker was hired to succeed Vivian Pickard as president last year. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press last summer, Parker said it will be important to align outcomes to make sure the organization is “affecting the most positive change possible and having the biggest impact on the community.”

STEM education will focus on students in grades three through 12 and college, with a special emphasis on women and minorities, aiming to increase the the number of students who earn a degree in STEM, the supply of qualified teachers, and the presence achievement and persistence for underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.

Vehicle and road safety will focus on parents, grandparents, and young drivers and children, with a goal to reduce the number of vehicle-related injuries and deaths. The goal of sustainable communities will decrease the number of high school students not ready for college, increase in education levels and/or marketable technical or vocational skills, and support neighborhood revitalization and urban renewal programs, focused on “poorer districts and neighborhoods within select global communities.”

The foundation in 2015 reported $30 million in contributions, gifts and grants paid, down from about $30.8 million in the previous year. Scores of grants, including dozens of as little as $200, were made to assorted organizations but among the largest contributions made in

2015 by the GM Foundation were:
• $6.2 million – United Way of Southeastern Michigan;
• $4.8 million – Scholarship America, Inc.;
• $2 million – Safe Kids Worldwide;
• $1.25 million – College for Creative Studies;
• $1 million – Habitat For Humanity International;
• $500,000 – Michigan Science Center;
• $500,000 – Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute;
• $500,000 – Focus HOPE;
• $500,000 – Detroit Institute of Arts;

In that same tax form, the foundation filed an “explanatory statement regarding substantial contraction of assets, meaning there was a reduction of assets greater than 25 percent “resulting in a substantial contraction” of the foundation. The contraction was due to excess distributions made during the tax year, “which were far in excess of income received.” Book income for 2015 was $476,752 and total expenses and distributions for charitable purposes totaled $30.939 million.

The fair market value of assets at the end of the year was $35.6 million.

The largest grantee of the GM Foundation was the United Way for Southeast Michigan, which in 2015 received three grants totaling more than $6 million. The Detroit-based United Way affiliate reported about $61 million in total revenue that year, and almost $52 million last year, according to its most recent Form 990.

“United Way and the GM Foundation have a longstanding history of partnering around education in this community. More than a year ago, with support from the foundation, the organization transitioned its work from focusing on graduation rates to teeing up students for success after graduation, prepared for college and/or a career,” Vickie Winn, director of public relations for United Way for Southeast Michigan, said in a statement.

“We are grateful for the GM Foundation’s continued partnership in our work, and shared goal of ensuring children throughout Southeast Michigan have the best possible education,” she said.

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