2018-03-15 / Life in Leelanau

Meet the President

Collaboration communication, a focus for new nonprofit boss
By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff


DAVE MENGEBIER and wife Molly enjoy visiting the beaches in Leelanau county. Mengebier returned to his native northern Michigan following what he describes as a long 41 year absence. DAVE MENGEBIER and wife Molly enjoy visiting the beaches in Leelanau county. Mengebier returned to his native northern Michigan following what he describes as a long 41 year absence. Northern Michigan native David Mengebier returned home after 41 years. And he’s more than happy about it.

“I grew up in Petoskey, left for college, lived in D.C. for 27 years and then came back to live in Ann Arbor for 16 years,” said Mengebier, who resides in Elmwood Township. “It’s taken me 41 years to get back to northern Michigan, and I’m so happy to be here. I’m absolutely in heaven here.”

Mengebier returned to be president and CEO at the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation (GTRCF). He said the position is a good fit for the skills he gained during his career at Consumers Energy.

Most recently, he served as the senior vice president for governmental regulatory and public affairs, as well as the president for the Consumers Energy Foundation. The position included government relations on the state and federal levels. During his tenure at Consumers Energy, Mengebier also served on several nonprofit boards. He still serves locally on the Little Traverse Conservancy board.

He said there are similarities between his work at Consumers Energy and GTRCF. He’s no stranger to being a public spokesperson and working with community and business leaders, including those in the nonprofit sector.

“The fact that I’m now working for the community foundation and I get to use the same tools and skills — it’s been a very smooth transition,” he said.

There are differences, however.

One is scope of work. He moved from a 68-county service territory to a five-county region.

“Consumers Energy is a Fortune 500 company with 15,000 employees. It’s a $13 billion organization,” he said. “Here, there are six of us.

“This is a lot more hands-on. It’s fun. It’s how my career started — I do all of my own scheduling, my own filing, my own writing. I don’t have an assistant.”

And, he said, this work results in “working together to make an impact in the communities we serve.”

Communities like those in Leelanau County.

“We have $61 million permanently endowed assets,” he said. “We don’t spend down those assets. We grant out the income and interest.”

That income and interest totals about $2.5 million annually.

GTRCF manages over 300 funds. Some are specific to Leelanau County nonprofits and scholarships: $1.75 million in endowed assets and $2.3 million in donor-advised funds that are regularly granted out to the entire region, of which Leelanau County is a part. Between the two sources, Leelanau nonprofits have received $822,000 over the last four years.

“One of the things I didn’t really understand is you see how much work and all the mechanics involved in setting up funds, managing and reporting on them, and then making the grants. For example, one of our staff members is processing over 700 applications from students in the region. It’s hard to see all the things that go on behind the scenes.”

In the past two years, 15 county students have received over $20,000 in scholarships thanks to this application process.

The community foundation’s five giving areas — education, environment, arts and culture, health and social welfare and youth programs — have benefited many.

Aside from continuing grant awards and other support to Leelanau and the other four counties in the Grand Traverse region, what are Mengebier’s focus areas for the GTRCF?

The question can be answered in two words: communication and collaboration.

“On my list is going to each (nonprofit) and seeing first-hand what each of these organizations are doing. That way, I can go and see the grants at work,” he said. “Every week, I’m meeting with leaders from nonprofits. That’s one of the best parts of this job — the reaching out.”

He said he would also like to see GTRCF play a more proactive role in aligning partnerships, helping nonprofits coordinating, communicating and collaborating to have a bigger impact in the communities they serve.

“We tend to be ‘Switzerland’ and able to bring together the nonprofit community,” Mengebier said.

And he wants to use this neutral position to help nonprofits be as effective as possible.

“If we mapped out what all nonprofits in the five- county region are doing, and how the most pressing needs are being met, we would see where service gaps are. I see that as more the role to work collaboratively to see how to bridge those gaps.

* * *

“One thing I don’t want to do is start another ‘flavor of the month’ study. I’d like to look at the inventory of data out there and see if we can get a clearer picture of what’s out there without recreating the wheel — where resources are and what the pressing needs in the area are, and where those match up.”

Mengebier said he does not anticipate the results from this analysis to be surprising. Areas of need will include things like access to childcare and transportation, he said.

“But that way, we can be more clear-eyed about where to work.”

On the other side of the scale is the work the GTRCF does with donors.

Mengebier said the way GTRCF works with donors is quite different than the way traditional nonprofits work with them.

“Our role might be raising awareness for people to know and to help them meet their philanthropic goals,” he said. “We have some work to do to raise awareness with donors and help them to reach charitable and philanthropic goals.”

One of these funds is the Glen Arbor Garden Fund, chaired by Glen Arbor Treasurer Terry Gretzema.

The fund was developed over a decade ago to generate funds to help cover the costs of the public restroom, garden and picnic area in the Glen Arbor garden.

“It’s been a very good experience,” Gretzema said. “I think their investment strategy has worked. We have public funds and want to preserve the principal of those funds... (GTRCF) has been open, transparent and I have enjoyed working with them.”

Another recipient of donor-advised funds is the Leelanau Community Cultural Center.

Executive director Becky Ashley Ross appreciates the financial support. “It’s lovely to be able to count on those gifts,” Ross said.

Most of the funds received are allocated to general operating costs, but one of the funds provides scholarships for the youth summer arts and crafts programming offered at the Old Art Building.

When Mengebier is not meeting with nonprofit leaders or GTRCF donors, he said he enjoys spending free time riding his bike on the TART Leelanau Trail or boating with his wife, daughters and dog. He walks to and from work most days.

“I walk right along the bay. It’s about a mile or mile and a half each way,” he said.

He said on the way to work he thinks about what the day will bring, and on the way home he uses the time to “decompress.”

His wife Molly is happy to be here as well. She is an active volunteer with seniors.

When he returned to northern Michigan, Mengebier said he had two goals: retiring early enough to do something “different” and to work somewhere he could apply his skills.

It looks like he’s found the perfect place to do just that.

Behind the scenes

The Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation (GTRCF) exists to facilitate, promote and serve philanthropy and permanent endowments, thereby enhancing the quality of life in its five-county region.

The GTRCF has $61 million in permanently endowed assets, which it doesn’t spend. Income and interest generate about $2.5 million annually, fueling grant-giving endeavors in five focus areas: education, environment, arts and culture, health and social welfare and youth programs.

The organization, which manages more than 300 funds, has doled out about $822,000 to Leelanau County nonprofits in the last four years.

Among the recipients are county students, Inland Seas Education Association, Leelanau Conservancy, Glen Lake Association, Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, Glen Arbor Art Center, Leelanau Community Cultural Center, Leelanau Christian Neighbors, Child and Family Services of Northwest Michigan and Leelanau Children’s Center.

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Thanks Jen for the nice

Thanks Jen for the nice article. Looking forward to continuing our work with the communities in Leelanau County. A truly wonderful place to live and work.

Great guy

Great guy