A University-Based Center to Advance Effective Philanthropy
We bridge research and practice to ensure community changemakers have access to the knowledge, guidance, and supports they need.

The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy is an academic center of excellence at Grand Valley State University. We work with nonprofits and foundations, scholars and students, and partners in business and government to connect practitioners to the information and skills they need to make change for good.

The Johnson Center offers:

  • Competency-based professional education through public and private courses
  • Cross-sector research, evaluation, and strategic services
  • Bold thinking and insights to advance the field

Our Mission, Vision, and Values

We are committed to advancing equity in philanthropy.

Attendees at the Nonprofit Board Connect event in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Our Mission

We aim to be a global leader in helping individuals and organizations understand, strengthen, and advance philanthropy.

Attendees shake hands at the Nonprofit Board Connect event in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Our Vision

We envision a world shaped by smart, adaptive, and effective philanthropy that helps to create strong, inclusive communities.

Photo: A. Sparks holds a black & white family photo

Our Values

Our core values are excellence, inquiry, community, innovation, sustainability, integrity, and inclusiveness.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation helped launch the Johnson Center in 1992 to bring the resources of academic research into communities through the best practices of philanthropy. It continues to do that today.”

La June Montgomery Tabron

President and CEO, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

La June Montgomery Tabron

President and CEO, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

West Michigan’s extraordinary tradition of community philanthropy was our inspiration for establishing a center on philanthropy at GVSU. The two uplift each other, ensuring our collective reach is even greater.

Arend D. "Don" Lubbers

President Emeritus, GVSU

Arend D. "Don" Lubbers

President Emeritus, GVSU
Black & white photo of Dorothy (Dottie) Johnson

Dorothy A. Johnson:
Trailblazer in Philanthropy

In 1999, the Center for Philanthropic and Nonprofit Leadership at GVSU was renamed for Dorothy A. “Dottie” Johnson upon her retirement as founding president and CEO of the Council of Michigan Foundations. Dottie’s leadership helped to create a robust and passionate ecosystem for community innovation.

Learn More About Dottie Johnson

SINCE 1992

Leaders in Philanthropy: A History of the Johnson Center

In the early 1990s, Dr. Russell Mawby (president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 1970–1995) and Arend D. Lubbers (president of GVSU, 1969–2001) shared a vision to establish an anchor institution of higher education and applied research on philanthropy in Michigan. Founded at GVSU in 1992 as the Center for Philanthropic and Nonprofit Leadership, the center was renamed in 1999 for Dorothy A. Johnson, founding president of the Council of Michigan Foundations.

Looking Forward: A New Chapter of Leadership

In April 2023, the Johnson Center welcomed Dr. Lesley D. Slavitt as our new executive director. A seasoned philanthropic leader, Lesley has worked in partnership with community stakeholders throughout her career. Having devised and guided initiatives addressing economic empowerment, arts and culture, pre-K–16 educational success, and disaster relief and recovery, she has an integrative understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the sector.

Johnson Center Annual Report 2022-2023

In our 30th year, the Johnson Center welcomed a new executive director, pursued new and unique research projects, and shared timely conversations with international peers and partners. Explore our history and look to the future in our 2022-2023 annual report.

Proud Member of the NNIP

The Johnson Center is a member of the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP). The NNIP is a learning network coordinated by the Urban Institute and connecting independent partner organizations that share a mission to ensure all communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods. Learn more at neighborhoodindicators.org.

Logo: National Neighborhood Indicators Partner