Auto Heir Bill Ford and Wife Lisa Want to Raise $10M for Detroit Nonprofits

The great-grandson of Henry Ford is helping ten youth-centered nonprofits establish $1.5 million endowments over the next two years.

Couple pose in large marble room
Lisa and Bill Ford at Michigan Central Station. Courtesy Ford

Bill Ford, chairman of automobile manufacturer Ford and great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, is launching a campaign to establish permanent endowments at ten youth-focused nonprofits across Detroit.

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Launched by Bill and his wife Lisa, the campaign aims to raise $10 million by June to coincide with the reopening of Michigan Central Station, a historic train station that has been undergoing renovations led by Ford since 2018. “The restoration of Michigan Central is about the future,” said the couple in a statement, adding that “the best investment we can make for the future is in our children.”

Named the Michigan Central Station Children’s Endowment Campaign, the fundraising efforts are being launched in partnership with the Children’s Foundation. The organization, which focuses on aiding the physical and mental health of children across Michigan, will provide the ten nonprofits with guidance on how to fundraise and utilize their endowments.

The youth-serving groups will be selected through a community-led process and will each receive $500,000 in seed money to start or grow endowments, in addition to gaining access to “drop-in” space at Michigan Central Station. The campaign will also help the nonprofits establish fundraising campaigns that make them eligible for matching funds, with the aim of building $1.5 million endowments over two years.

Why are endowments important for nonprofits?

Endowments act as a long-term source of revenue that can grow over time as funds are invested. The $1.5 million endowments, for example, could eventually produce around $70,000 in annual spendable revenue. Despite their financial benefits, endowments are relatively rare among public nonprofits—only one in nine manage endowment funds, according to a 2020 study from MIT’s Sloan School of Management. This is especially true for youth-centered organizations in the Detroit area, according to the Michigan Central Station Children’s Endowment Campaign, which explained in a press release that local nonprofits are largely unable to dedicate the finances and administration efforts towards starting or managing such funds.

While the campaign was officially launched today (March 19), the effort has already raised about $7.5 million so far through early support and endorsements by figures like Lisa and Bill Ford, who contributed an undisclosed amount to the campaign. The couple have previously taken part in fundraising campaigns benefiting institutions like the Children’s Center in Detroit and Princeton University athletics.

Other supporters include the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a Michigan-based foundation focused largely on youth-related efforts. “We know that for children to thrive, they need access to quality care and education, their families need access to well-paying jobs that become career pathways to upward economic mobility and their communities need to be equitable places of opportunity,” said La June Montgomery Tabron, CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in a statement. “Every child who calls Detroit home deserves to have that kind of chance at success.”

Auto Heir Bill Ford and Wife Lisa Want to Raise $10M for Detroit Nonprofits