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Detroit-based foundation has 20 years to give out $1.2 billion in grants

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Courtesy of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.
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The late Ralph C. Wilson Jr. was owner of the Buffalo Bills and a long-time resident of the Detroit area. His namesake foundation will focus its philanthropic efforts on the Detroit and Buffalo areas.

If you had 20 years to give away $1.2 billion, how would you do it?

That’s the question facing one Detroit-based philanthropy, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

Funded by the estate of the late Ralph C. Wilson Jr., who was born in Detroit and went on to become the owner of the Buffalo Bills, the Foundation plans to focus its efforts on the areas Mr. Wilson called home: southeast Michigan and western New York.

And unlike many philanthropic foundations, which invest their endowments and give away the income generated by those investments, Mr. Wilson’s foundation has a mandate to spend all of the money by 2035.

We spoke to Dave Egner, president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, who told us that giving away $1.2 billion is not as easy as it may sound.

“We want to be very strategic,” Egner told us. “We want programs that are embraced in-community, not just good ideas of the staff of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.”

Exactly what those programs will be remains to be seen, but Egner said that the Foundation wants to focus on the Detroit area’s assets rather than its deficits. Egner pointed to the region’s freshwater resources, its high concentration of engineers, and the proximity of three "Tier One" universities as potential points of emphasis.

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation is currently accepting grant applications, and plans to start ramping up its spending in the coming years. Listen to our full interview with Dave Egner above. 

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