Foundation Profile: The Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation
This posting is part of our investigation into the Grand Rapids Non-Profit Industrial Complex. We are beginning with a look at Grand Rapids-based foundations.
This is the first in a series of postings that look at foundations based in Grand Rapids. It seems obvious to us, to begin with the most powerful family in the area, the DeVos Family, specifically the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation. The following information is based on the foundation’s 990s, which you can access here.
We looked at the 990s for this foundation from 2009 through 2011, which provides us with which organizations they gave money to and what amount.
It should be noted that, the money donated through the foundation is different than the money donated in direct political contributions, even though foundation funding can have direct political consequences.
There were over 100 different entities which received funding support from the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation in each of the three years (2009 – 2011) we looked at. There seems to be three broad categories that this foundation gives large sums of money; education, religious and political.
There are many social service agencies that also are recipients of this foundation, but those numbers pale in comparison to the large recipients of the oldest DeVos family foundation. Most of the non-profit groups receiving money are also overtly Christian.
Looking at the area of education, the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation has provided substantial financial support to Christian Schools. For instance, the Grand Rapids Christian School Association has received roughly $5.6 million from this foundation from 2009 – 2011. Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary combined have received roughly $8.5 million.
However, Christian schools are not the only recipients of funds from the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation. Grand Valley State University has received $5 million from 2009 – 2011 and Norwood University has received $6 million. Norwood is a leading business school in the US, which states that its mission, “is to develop the future leaders of a global, free-enterprise society.”
When it comes to funding religious groups, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation give to conservative, evangelical Christian groups. For instance, the Alliance for Children Everywhere, which does Christian charity work, has received roughly $1.2 million from the foundation in recent years.
Another Christian organization that has received a significant amount from the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation is Prison Fellowship Ministries, founded by former Watergate criminal Chuck Colson. While Prison Fellowship Ministries deals primarily with prison ministry, Colson has not shied away from taking strong public stands against the LGBTQ community and other conservative causes.
Then there are groups like the Haggai Institute and the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, both of which promote far right politics and develop future conservative leadership. The Haggai Institute has received $1 million and the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association has received $6 million.
The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has also given Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church over $1 million and Focus on the Family has received an estimated $1.3 million between 2009 – 2011. Focus on the Family has a long history of supporting repressive roles for women and has taken strong stances against women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality. Their founder, James Dobson has been a leader in the religious right and even promotes a form of Christian Theocracy.
One last Christian group that has received funding from the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation is the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute. The Acton Institute, founded in 1990, believes there is a natural relationship between Christianity and Capitalism. The Acton Institute is anti-union and has even been the recipient of funding for climate denial.
Funding groups like Acton with a strong free market capitalist mission is no surprise, since this is something that Richard DeVos has been promoting for most of his life and is supported by the some of the groups his foundation has financially supported.
The Heritage Foundation has received millions of dollars from the DeVos family and the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation gave $6 million from 2009 – 2011. The Heritage Foundation was one of the leaders in the “new right movement,” and is credited with crafting the initial policy positions for the Reagan Administration.
Other think tanks that have received large sums from the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation are the American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Prosperity, the Freedom Works Foundation and the Young America’s Foundation.
Some of these groups have had tremendous impact on public policy, such as ALEC funded policies, which have been disastrous for working class people and the environment. Americans for Prosperity is a front group for the Koch Brothers and played a large role in passing a Right to Work law in Michigan. Freedom Works also promotes public austerity measures, which transfers more public finds to private power and is closely connected to the Tea Party.
Young America’s Foundation is lesser known, but is equally dangerous in terms of the ideology it promotes, such as the free market and personal freedom. Young America’s Foundation was started to counter the left/activist influence of students on campuses in the US in the 1960s and 1970s.
It seems pretty clear that the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation supports ultra-conservative policies and the supremacy of the free market for solving social problems. Many of the groups they have funded have promoted various forms of discrimination and hate, along with merging of Capitalism with Christianity.
At the same time, there are many local social service agencies in West Michigan, which have also received funding from the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation, although to a much lesser degree. Providing funds to groups like ICCF, the Literacy Center of West Michigan and Home Repair Services. Such funding, it could be argued, is put to good use for people with specific needs.
However, what this funding also can do is not only redirect public attention away from the far right groups they fund and even cause justice minded people to become apologists for the DeVos family and its foundations. This is certainly a theme we will explore when doing interviews with local non-profits.
The next foundation we will profile is the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation.