Some grants are special, in that the impact of the funding goes far beyond a simple story. When fully realized, these projects transform our region: by igniting economic development, catalyzing change, incubating organizations.  Examples of some of Charities’ transformative grants are below. 


State theatreA pledge of $1 million was made to the State Theatre Project in 1997. The plan was to renovate the State Theatre and the adjoining building to the east, creating a Performing Arts Center that would be home to the Michigan Ensemble Theater (MET) and the Traverse Symphony Orchestra. In 2004, eight years after the project was started, The State Theatre Group (STG) abandoned their plans to renovate the State Theatre and the adjacent building to the east. Since Rotary Charities had attached a lien to its last grant payment, STG ultimately relinquished the deed to the State and the lease on the adjacent building, which Rotary Charities subsequently paid. Rotary Charities facilitated discussion between other community arts partners about possible renovation and use of the buildings, but these negotiations failed and in 2006 Rotary Charities sold the building to the east of the State Theatre in a sealed bid process. Discussion began with the Traverse City Film Festival(TCFF) about ownership of the State Theatre.

Negotiations with Michael Moore and the Traverse City Film Festival regarding the ownership of the State Theatre continued, and in 2007 Rotary Charities gave them the keys to building along with a five-year performance-based mortgage. The provisions of the agreement that valued the building at $1 million included no cash but gave TCFF full responsibility for the renovation and maintenance of the building. It also required that the building be open a defined number of evening throughout the years and open for community groups usage.

In November 2007, the newly-renovated State Theatre opened in a gala event and its lights have not gone out since. All of the mortgage requirements were exceeded, and in May 2012 the mortgage expired. When Rotary Charities handed the keys to the State Theater over the Traverse City Film Festival, the Board took a huge leap of faith and was rewarded with a renovated facility that has amazed nearly everyone and provided a real economic boost to downtown and local economy. The success of the State Theater continues, and as one former Rotary Charities Board Member put it, “You know the State Theater has changed things when you drive down Front Street at 10pm on a Tuesday evening in February and there are a lot of people still walking on the streets.”


park placeIn 1989, the historic Park Place Hotel was bought out of bankruptcy court for $2.6 million, beginning Rotary’s commitment to downtown Traverse City. This large leadership leap was risky and not universally supported by club members. Charities, Camps and Center Board members continued to move forward because they believed retention and renovation of the hotel would serve the greater good and be a catalyst for other re-development and investment in the heart of the region. In 1991, the newly renovated Park Place Hotel opened its doors and gave a much-needed boost to the rebirth of downtown Traverse City.

Park Place PlaqueAfter briefly operating the hotel it was sold to Regency Hotel Ventures, a company with a successful track record of operating downtown historic properties. This group continues to own and operate the Park Place today. The total capital investment for the renovation was $9,008,476 and operational expenses were $1,665,800. Adding the original purchase price of the hotel, the total investment in the Park Place Hotel was $13,174,276. This sizeable capital investment in downtown Traverse City has leveraged tens of millions of dollars in private and public investment in buildings, such as Radio Center, 101 Park, the Towne Center and the Hardy Parking Structure.


trilliaFollowing the gift of 760 acres to Rotary Camps & Services by the estate of Howard and Mary Edwards, the need for a new organization to preserve and protect land throughout the region was identified and proactively pursued. The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC) was incubated by Rotary Camps & Services from 1990-92 under the leadership of Rob Collier. The first board of directors for the GTRLC involved many Rotarians. Under Rob’s watchful eye, the first Executive Director for the Conservancy, Glen Chown, was hired, and remains in that position today. This marked Rotary Charites’ first commitment to provide services at the regional level, making operations more affordable and sustainable.

Rotary Charities invested $116,000 in startup costs for GTRLC. In 2000, Rotary Charities granted $600,000 in endowment funds and $262,138 in support for other projects over the years. Rotary Charities’ total support for the Conservancy is $1,028,138. The Conservancy has leveraged Rotary Charities’ investments into $100,000 million in gifts and grants to protect 35,000 acres and 113 miles of shoreline.


gtrcf_logoRotary Charities responded to a challenge grant issued by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and helped to create the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation (GTRCF) in 1992. Again, Rotary Camps & Services and Rotary Charities worked together to incubate this new organization by providing the same sort of startup expertise. The Kellogg Challenge was to raise $2 million in endowment funds in order to leverage $1 million for a regional youth endowment fund. Recognizing the difficulties of trying to meet this endowment challenge, Rotary Charities stepped in and provided most of the operating expenses for the new organization, including staff.

Rob Collier served as the Acting Executive Director, and in 1993 Marsha Smith was hired to be Director of Development. As a Rotary Charities employee, Marsha’s services the first year were split evenly between raising endowment funds for the Community Foundation and strengthening outreach to the adjoining counties for United Way. In 1995, while still a Rotary Charities employee, Marsha became Executive Director of the Community Foundation. After Rob’s departure in 1996, Marsha assumed responsibilities for both Rotary Charities and the GTRCF until Jeanne Snow was hired as the GTRCF’s Executive Director in 1997. This partnership arrangement began the long tradition of promoting philanthropy by actively supporting our two primary regional partners: the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation and United Way of Northwest Michigan. Rotary Charities’ financial support for the operations of the Community Foundation continued for three more years, gradually decreasing as the endowment assets of GTRCF grew.

Rotary Charities has invested in the Community Foundation in a variety ways: $462,000 for organizational startup costs; $893,000 in various endowment funds; $2,009,000 for projects managed by the GTRCF; and $2.5 million in 1997 to establish The Rotary Fund, a Donor Advised Fund. These investments have leveraged $70 million in gifts to the Community Foundation and have resulted in 10,204 grants totaling $31 million distributed throughout the region by the Community Foundation. The permanent endowed assets of the GTRCF now total $48 million.


homestretchStarted in 1997, HomeStretch was our region’s first nonprofit housing developer. The organization was initially incubated by Rotary Camps & Services, with funding support provided by Rotary Charities. What was different about this incubation from the previous two was the leadership role that Rotary Camps & Services played in the early formative years. The Camps’ board helped recruit the new organization’s founding members and provided guidance for its strategic direction. Camps also invested some of the funds from its own portfolio towards HomeStretch’s start-up costs and additional housing surveys required by State of Michigan funding sources. This marked the beginning of Rotary Camps & Services’ 10-year investment of both time and treasure to help address the need for affordable housing in the region. To date, HomeStretch has invested over $13.3 million in private and public funds to support the creation of over 100 affordable homes in the region.


NorthSky-logoThe Great Lakes Nonprofit Institute (GLNI) was launched at Northwestern Michigan College in 2003. Initially the focus of GLNI was on nonprofit organizations that were compatible with the Water Studies Institute, but this quickly expanded due to the demand for information and services from throughout the nonprofit sector. The startup of GLNI at NMC lasted three years with grant support from Rotary Charities. In 2005, a comprehensive study of nonprofit capacity building needs was conducted. Ultimately, NMC found the scope of services needed by nonprofits was beyond the college’s educational mission. The name GLNI was dropped and the NorthSky Nonprofit Network was created in 2006 and moved over to Rotary Camps & Services.

One of the major changes occurred in 2009, when NorthSky moved from Camps & Services to become a program of Rotary Charities. This marked Rotary Charities’ evolution from being strictly a grant maker to also becoming a service and program provider. NorthSky became a recognized leader in nonprofit management programs and modeled innovation in bringing issues like social entrepreneurship and strategic realignment to northern Michigan.

NorthSky assisted Rotary Charities by creating more effective and efficient organizations that were better able to meet their missions; our grant funds were more wisely invested in better run organizations; and integration into our foundation was the most sustainable model for program continuation. NorthSky expanded Rotary Charities by providing services, programs, and even human resources for regional projects through the VISTA program. NorthSky became the capacity building arm, providing counseling and consulting services, workshops and resources. This expanded our impact beyond the limited number that receive grant funds each year. NorthSky also become an integral part of helping Rotary Charities achieve its goals, like facilitating strategic partnership, providing leadership and promoting philanthropy. Social enterprise and strategic realignment were innovative ideas introduced to the region by NorthSky.