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Foundation Profile: The Frey Foundation

April 2, 2013

This foundation profile is part of a series of profile included in the Grand Rapids Non-Profit Industrial Complex Project.

Unlike the other foundations we have profiled up to this point, the Frey Foundation has an online presence, thus providing more transparency, than the foundations of the DeVos family members.1233684685_founderEdwardFrey

The wealth of the Frey Foundation originated with Edward Frey, who was the former President and Chairman of the Union Bank in Grand Rapids. Frey also functioned as the chairman of the board of Foremost Insurance Company. Like all foundations, the wealth used by the Frey Foundation was generated from the business class, which makes much of its wealth off of the labor of workers.

The Frey Foundation’s mission is as follows:

We invest in change. We work in partnership with organizations, agencies, and other funders, which have a track record of success and a deep commitment to the west Michigan community. Our grantmaking focuses on six interrelated aspects of community life: Arts, Capital Projects, Children, Civic Progress, Environment, and Philanthropy.

In looking at the 990s for the Frey Foundation from 2009 – 2011, one could argue that the Frey Foundation has contributed to organizations that people might identify as progressive, such as Dwelling Place and Legal Aid. There is a substantial investment in environmental efforts in West Michigan and across Michigan, with contributions to Blandford Nature Center, WMEAC, the Nature Conservancy, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and Trout Unlimited. The Frey Foundation even provided $45,000 to the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition in 2012, according to their own site.Picture 1

At the same time, the Frey Foundation has been a significant amount of money to entities that support business interests and the business class. Between 2009 – 2011, the Frey Foundation contributed $150,000 to the Right Place Inc., $26,000, Michigan Future Inc., $95,000 to the West Michigan Strategic Alliance and $289,000 to Grand Action.

These entities all are primarily made up of people who are part of the Grand Rapids power structure, with Michigan Future Inc. being somewhat of an exception, since it is not based in West Michigan. In fact, a representative of the Frey Foundation sits on three of the four business groups just listed, including Grand Action, Michigan Future Inc. and the West Michigan Strategic Alliance.

These relationships and these entities primarily exist to support existing power dynamics in West Michigan, dynamics which benefits the business class and local elites. While the Frey Foundation provides funding to progressive organizations that do engage in work that has social benefit, none of it challenges power.

This is not to argue that these groups should not take money from the Frey Foundation or any other foundation, but it does raise questions about how much influence these contributions have on organizations and their ability and inability to look at structural or systematic causes of major social problems, such as environmental destruction and contamination. These are questions we will be asking non-profits as part of our Grand Rapids Non-Profit Industrial Complex Project.

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