The Big Give

The Big Give is a group of men from the greater Midland area who are dedicated to helping local nonprofit agencies. The idea is simple: Meet three times per year, donate $100 per member at each meeting, and vote on a local nonprofit to receive the funds. Over $300,000 has gone to Midland County nonprofits through The Big Give.

“Despite our diverse backgrounds, political persuasions, and religious beliefs, we unite for a common cause. It is fascinating to me that, even with our differences, we share a like-mindedness when it comes to supporting organizations in need. Through the Big Give, we form a strong community bond, transcending the barriers that may separate us.” – Kevin Kendrick.

I had the immense pleasure of meeting Jim Nigro, Kevin Kendrick, and Jesse Trachen to discuss an extraordinary and collaborative giving circle known as The Big Give. With our cups of matcha and coffee in hand, we gather around our computer screens for a discussion about this impactful group of men in our community, joining forces to make a significant difference by raising awareness and funds for nonprofits and meaningful endeavors within Midland County. Allow us to offer you a glimpse into our conversation.

A Coffee Chat with The Big Give by Renee’ Deckrow

“Could you kindly share the story of how the concept of The Big Give came to be?”

“I used to work for Dow Corning. My wife and I moved there in 2006. And one of the things that our CEO, Stephanie  Burns, at the time, encouraged all of the folks on the Dow Corning executive team to do was to get involved in the community.

So, I had the opportunity to join some great organizations like Rotary and the Midland Area Community Foundation. Let me tell you, it was eye-opening. I got to witness firsthand what Midland could do. That’s when I heard about Tina Van Dam and the Midland 100. I mean, wow, talk about impressive! It started with a small group of women and grew to over 400 members. Incredible, right? My wife, Jenny, she’s still part of their awesome team. Why? Because they’re out there doing so much good.

Through Rotary, I met Jim. He has a huge heart, let me tell you. I could always rely on him, trust him – Jim is just an outstanding human being. So, I bounced this idea off of him, along with Don Sheets, who was the CFO at Dow Corning, and John Wilson, a terrific attorney. We thought, “Hey, why not create a giving circle for men?” That was around 2012, I think. Jim, being the genius he is, came up with a cool name – the Big Give. Classic, right?

So, here’s the thing: it all began with a small group of us who were eager to make a contribution. Unlike the Midland 100, though, we knew that handling significant funds was a task best left to someone else. That’s when we teamed up with the Community Foundation as our fiduciary. And you know what? It turned out to be a really smart move that boosted our credibility.

And that’s basically how our story began—a bunch of people coming together with a common goal to create positive change. I gotta say, it’s been an absolutely incredible journey!”

“I am thrilled to hear about your background and your contagious enthusiasm! It’s absolutely amazing how you found inspiration from the women of the 100 Club. As a fellow member, I wholeheartedly agree that it is truly a wonderful organization!

Could you please explain how the Big Give operates and who can participate in this program?”

“The concept is truly remarkable, and I must also credit Tina VanDam for being the driving force behind it all. Even to this day, Tina remains one of our most passionate supporters. She consistently encourages gentlemen to participate in the Big Give, and her ability to articulate our mission is truly exceptional.

The idea is simple: bring together men from our community for meetings three times a year. During these gatherings, various organizations present their financial needs, and we all engage in a voting process to decide which one we will support. The approach is refreshingly straightforward, devoid of unnecessary complexities.

In order to level the playing field, we deliberately refrain from using materials during the concise five-minute presentations. Our aim is to give everyone an equal chance, ensuring that even the most well-resourced corporations don’t have an unfair advantage. This unique format offers organizations a brief opportunity to connect with us. Following the presentations, we open up a five-minute window for questions and answers. Remarkably, our meetings typically conclude within 30 minutes, allowing us to bring together 150 individuals who each contribute $100. This collective effort generates an impressive fund of $15,000.
One particularly important aspect is the newfound awareness of three organizations that were initially unfamiliar to us. Through their presentations, we gain a deeper understanding of the philanthropic endeavors taking place in Midland. This acquired knowledge holds immeasurable value, irrespective of whether their organization is chosen at that particular time.”

“We would love this organization to grow in number and hope to continuing growing!

We were incredibly fortunate to have individuals like Jesse, along with numerous other men in our community, who enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to join our group. Their willingness and support have been invaluable to us.”

“I’ve truly valued my involvement with The Big Give, and I’ve been amazed by the knowledge I’ve gained through this experience.

We often encounter organizations that rely solely on volunteers and lack dedicated staff. One of the most rewarding aspects of our work is supporting these small nonprofits that make a tremendous impact. For instance, there’s a group that provides diapers for members of our community who are unable to afford them. It’s disheartening to learn that some individuals resort to using plastic shopping bags as makeshift diapers. But it doesn’t end there; we also encounter cases where children receive donated sneakers so they can experience a sense of belonging. The examples are endless, from groups constructing ramps for disabled veterans to those facing difficulties in raising funds.

These organizations, with no staff or financial resources, lack the means for major fundraising. That’s where we step in. We provide a simple and effective application process that takes no more than thirty minutes to an hour. We have found our niche in supporting these groups, and it brings us immense satisfaction. I must also highlight that we are able to achieve this without any expenditure, thanks to the Community Foundation’s invaluable support. The Midland Country Club also extends generosity towards us by providing us with a meeting space at no cost three times a year.

Ultimately, our goal is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who need it most.”

“As Jesse mentioned, we started hearing from organizations that were previously unfamiliar to us and providing them with opportunities to make a positive difference. This is especially crucial during these challenging post-COVID times when both organizations and individuals are facing hardships.

It’s absurd to think that women, or men for that matter, should even have to concern themselves with something as basic as diapers, isn’t it?”

“I appreciate your efforts in addressing the basic needs of our community. What captivates me the most is the collaborative spirit embedded in this initiative. You have fostered a dedicated community where individuals with shared ideals come together, pooling their resources to achieve remarkable collective outcomes. Even a modest contribution, as little as $300 in a year, has compounded into something far greater – a snowball of progress. This serves as a powerful testament to the immense impact of unity.”

That is what makes Midland so beautiful. It’s a city where countless individuals diligently work behind the scenes, supported by numerous organizations that join forces for meaningful causes. As Jesse mentioned, the Community Foundation and the Midland Country Club are invaluable gifts to the community, silently aiding initiatives such as The Big Give. Their contributions often go unnoticed, but they deserve our heartfelt appreciation for their unwavering commitment and community spirit. Hats off to their exceptional management!

The Community Foundation not only manages our funds but also assists in keeping us organized. They maintain a database of group members who may require a gentle reminder to make their contributions. By lending us their infrastructure and organizational expertise, they simplify the process for us. This collaboration saves us time and ensures a smooth workflow.

That’s wonderful! I truly appreciate a well-designed process that promotes long-term sustainability. It’s evident that stewardship holds immense importance to each of you. As the saying goes, “To whom much is given, much is required.” However, I’m also intrigued by personal experiences of kindness and generosity that have touched your lives. Speaking for myself, I have countless personal stories, too! While assisting at the Open Door and setting up the playroom, I felt a strong urge to ensure there were baby dolls available. It made me wonder why was it so significant to me. And then a memory surfaced—back when I was a little girl, and my family faced financial struggles. I vividly recall visiting a church where compassionate ladies made sure that my sisters and I each received our own baby doll. We were overjoyed, and that moment held great significance, especially during our formative years. So, do you have any heartwarming anecdotes to share? I would love to hear them!

My mom she’s been my biggest influence. See, back when we were just kids in Philadelphia, around 8, 9, 10 years old, she had this amazing idea. She wanted inner-city children from the heart of Philadelphia to come stay with us for a week. We’d take them to this Swim Club, nothing fancy, but let me tell you, it was an eye-opener. That’s when I first experienced prejudice, you know? And man, it was just terrible. But my mom, Jerry, she taught me something important – to help those who are less fortunate. She really showed me the way. And yeah, there were many others that have helped me along the way, too, but her influence and these memories were some of the most significant.

My parents, like Jim mentioned, were incredible sources of inspiration for me, too. They were deeply committed to social justice and politics, always keeping their passion at the forefront. Alongside them, individuals such as Kevin and Jim themselves have undeniably upheld and propelled our community, positively influencing the lives of many. Frankly, I feel humbled to even be a part of this discussion. These two individuals have made a significant impact on Midland, and Kevin’s continued involvement, despite having moved away, is noteworthy. It is important to highlight that both of them are exceptional individuals who embody incredible values.

Oh, Jesse, right back at you!

For me, let me tell you about a couple of encounters I had with Detroit police officers back in the day. Thankfully, both times, they gave me a second chance that really made an impact on me.

So, picture this: I was just a kid, carving my initials on a tree on a busy street. Yeah, not the smartest move, I know. And out of nowhere, this Detroit police officer taps my shoulder. I was prepared for the worst, thinking I’d end up in handcuffs. But instead, he just took my knife away and told me not to do it. Can you believe that?

Fast forward to when I started driving and was rushing to college one morning. I made an illegal left turn, speeding my way onto the freeway. And you won’t guess what happened next. Yup, another Detroit traffic officer pulls me over. He starts listing all the things I did wrong, which I totally knew, by the way. But here’s the cool part – he sits me in the front seat of his car and starts talking to me about the importance of driving safely and being considerate of others, even when you’re in a hurry. That really hit home for me, you know? In the end, he wrote me a $5 ticket for not having a registration instead of hammering me for all the other offenses. He could have made my day a lot worse, but he didn’t.
These may not be the most important moments in my life, but they’re definitely ones I’ll never forget. They taught me that people can give you a second chance when you least expect it.

Speaking of amazing people, let me tell you about my parents. My mom was like the real-life version of that movie “The Help”. She cleaned houses for a living all across the suburbs. And my dad, he worked in a factory in Detroit. Both of them believed strongly in the power of education and helping others. They were always there to lend a hand whenever they could.

I really appreciate you sharing these personal stories! The presence of inspiring role models, the virtues of generosity, and the transformative power of gracious second chances – they all play such a significant role in shaping our personal growth and development. It’s clear to see your passion for giving back, and The Big Give initiative provides a convenient and straightforward way for us to contribute. So, what sets it apart from other forms of philanthropy?

For me, it’s truly about the impact we’re making, especially in terms of outreach. Midland boasts numerous exceptional groups, some of which are incredibly sophisticated—and that’s fantastic. However, as someone who used to work as a fundraiser for many years (even though I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy it), I understand the difficulty and time commitment involved in securing grants. That’s why it’s truly astounding to me that we now have a wonderfully simple yet impactful way to apply for and receive grants. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a full-time staff; even volunteers can utilize this opportunity. To me, it’s almost revolutionary. I acknowledge that the women’s group follows a similar approach, which is significant because they’re doing remarkable work in our community for those in dire need. Playing a small role in this and, as Jim mentioned, raising awareness is truly tremendous.

It’s truly remarkable what Jim and Kevin have initiated, alongside the invaluable contribution of John Wilson. As the founders, they have become my go-to source for guidance and clarification. Their expertise and support are truly remarkable.

In our community, one thing comes up time and time again: the importance of inclusion. We all want an environment where everyone can thrive, and that’s what we aim for in our Midland County vision statement. Accessibility is key here – it’s not just about physical access but making sure everyone has a fair shot. We’re working hard to create a community where giving is easy and where everyone feels welcome. That’s why the Big Give is such an exciting and game-changing idea.

Certainly, indeed, it is a remarkable concept, as we grant access to those individuals who typically lack it. By doing so, we empower them to assist those who lack the capacity to advocate for themselves. It is an invaluable endeavor, ensuring that support reaches those who genuinely need it, even when they may lack the means to access it.

The Big Give is truly remarkable for its open-mindedness, too. It welcomes nonprofits with any operational needs without restriction. We simply request that you articulate your specific needs and explain why this particular grant is vital for your cause. Furthermore, even if you are not selected this time, we strongly encourage you to reapply. Persistence is key, and we’ve had numerous instances where applicants succeeded after several attempts.

I would like to share another aspect of what I truly enjoy about working with the Big Give. Jesse, Kevin, and I all have a deep-seated commitment to fostering the next generation of givers and philanthropists. The Big Give provides us with an invaluable platform to not only recruit but also nurture and develop future leaders. This is another aspect that I feel is so important.

Renee, I wholeheartedly agree with Jim. This brings us back to your insightful point on stewardship. It encompasses everything – not just the management of funds but also the dedication to the cause and the preservation of the organization’s legacy. Remarkably, we have reached a significant milestone as we celebrate our 10th anniversary!

New members and younger individuals will carry on this tradition of giving and stewardship. Despite our diverse backgrounds, political persuasions, and religious beliefs, we unite for a common cause. It is fascinating to me that, even with our differences, we share a like-mindedness when it comes to supporting organizations in need. We form a strong community bond, transcending the barriers that may separate us.

Before we wrap up the call, I’d like to share a quick story. As Jim spoke, it reminded me of a meeting where three individuals presented. One presenter was deeply moved by the previous speaker’s struggle and urged everyone to support them instead. It was a profound and touching moment. Eventually, that presenter reapplied, and they were granted the fund the next time around. This showcases the remarkable spirit of generosity in Midland County and underscores the pressing need to help those in difficult circumstances.

Wow, thanks for sharing that. I was not aware of that; that’s awesome.

It was incredibly impactful, Jesse. You’re absolutely correct. To hear him say that, “Yeah, these gentlemen needed more than just me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I also needed it, but their need was greater than mine.” I thought to myself, did he really just say that?

Wow, we all really appreciate the amazing impact of this incredible story that showcases the selfless spirit in our community. I just want to say a big thanks to Jesse, Jim, and Kevin for going above and beyond to make a real difference for our neighbors in Midland. Before we wrap up our call, I’d love to know: what’s got you excited about Midland’s future?

In our chat, it was clear that we all agreed on something: the Foundation’s commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusivity is so important for our community. Initiatives like the Miracle Field and clubs like the Rotary play a big role in making this happen. Feel free to join and get involved! Let’s create a sense of belonging and unity together.

Together, Forward, Bold… we go!

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