Gathered at the Haworth Hotel and Conference Center at Hope College, attendees heard opening remarks from Dick and Betsy DeVos followed by a workshop to help the organizations sharpen their strategic plans on everything from marketing to philanthropic support.
“We are thrilled to be supporting this capacity building initiative now and are really looking forward to the fruit that it will bear,” Betsy DeVos told attendees.
DeVos said arts “have always been a really, really important part of my world,” and that she loves being in places with vibrant arts and cultural organizations. She said she wanted to do her part to strengthen the groups that do that work in her hometown.
Her husband, Dick, added: “What you do matters. You help make West Michigan special.”
Friday’s event is part of a two-year program, Capacity Building: Michigan Lakeshore, launched in September 2022. It provides a mix of monthly consultations and in-person events focused on areas such as fundraising, revenue diversification, marketing, board development and management, and strategic planning.
The program is funded by the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation and is led by Michael Kaiser, chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management.
The DeVos Institute of Arts Management is based at the University of Maryland. Formerly based at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the institute was launched in 2010 as part of a $22.5 million gift by Dick and Betsy DeVos to train arts and cultural leaders across the country.
Betsy DeVos met Kaiser while serving as member of the Kennedy Center’s board. She was appointed to the board by former President George W. Bush.
During Friday’s event, arts and cultural nonprofits said they were pleased to be participating in the program.
Patti Montgomery Reinert, executive director of the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, said her museum is transitioning from a seasonal to a year-round operation. The capacity building program is helping her organization recognize the importance of looking at its services more holistically, she said.
“Our vision is so large, we have so many different things going on, that this is really helpful to look at those things individually and then bring it all back together with a road map,” Montgomery said.
Jill Ver Steeg, president and CEO of Evergreen Commons, which is located in Holland and offers programming and activities for the elderly, said Friday’s event was going to help her organization craft a five- to seven-year strategic plan.
She also said she hopes to learn more about marketing and philanthropic best practices.
“We have much to learn in terms of diversifying our philanthropy,” Ver Steeg said. “We’re a group ripe for estate planning, and I need to learn the tools to learn how to do that.”
During an interview, Dick and Betsy DeVos spoke about the challenges arts organizations are facing, the importance of the arts, and what they hope the organizations gain from participating in the program.
“We know that just like every part of society, the arts are rapidly changing, and it’s a challenge for every arts organization to keep thinking about the long term,” Betsy DeVos said. “How are they going to be attractive to people, how are they going to be sustainable?”
Dick DeVos said he hopes the capacity building program helps participants become “more dynamic, more creative, more fiscally responsible with better marketing, more compelling programming.”
“This is sort of the behind the curtain stuff that oftentimes gets overlooked but is going to help in the long term,” he said.
He also noted that when he and his wife first launched the effort, part of the idea was to help arts organizations at a time when government funding for arts and cultural organizations was on the decline.
“That meant arts organizations were going to have to think about how they paid the bills very differently,” he said.
Looking forward, the two said they were hopeful the program gives participants the tools to flourish.
“It’s important for everyone’s quality of life,” Betsy DeVos said, speaking about the importance of art. “Arts enhance everything, and great art is to be appreciated by even those who don’t regularly interact with or participate specifically in arts programming. It really has a spillover effect to all of life.”