The Paine Family Foundation

I catch up with Carol Paine-McGovern in a fourth-floor conference room in the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.

Carol’s in town for Foundations on the Hill. 300 philanthropy representatives from 35 states and the District of Columbia have gathered in our nation’s capital for meetings with members of Congress. Foundation representatives organized by the Council of Michigan Foundations have assembled at their chosen staging ground overlooking the Capitol dome and are preparing for meetings with every member of Michigan’s congressional delegation, 15 House members and both Senators, over the next day and a half.

Carol is President of the Paine Family Foundation, a small family foundation based in Manistee, Michigan.

“Where exactly is Manistee?” I ask.

Carol holds up her left hand, forming the mitten that is the largest part of Michigan, and points to the tip of her smallest finger.

“Up here,” she says. “We do most of our giving in Mason and Manistee counties in northern Michigan.”

The Paine Family Foundation was created in 1991 by Carol’s parents, Bill and Martha Paine, who had achieved some success with an office furniture and supply company.

“They wanted to give back to the community,” Carol says. “They started very small with a real commitment to these two communities. It’s truly a family foundation now. All of us are at the table.”

The foundation currently has 11 trustees: Bill and Martha; Carol, her three brothers, and their spouses; and one granddaughter. They will be joined by a 12th board member this May when Carol’s daughter, Briana, turns 21 this coming May.

“Family members can join the board when they reach 21,” Carol explains. “But from age 10, they can attend meetings and bring funding requests to the board.”

In 2005, the six Paine grandchildren, the youngest of whom is 13, were given $1,000 to donate in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The teens and young adults deliberated via email and chose to make a grant to the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to care for abandoned animals in the wake of the disaster.

Engaging a new generation can sometimes be a challenge, though, as Carol explains.

“You have to think outside the box. They tend to think more globally,” she says, recalling Briana’s requests for support of efforts in Darfur when most of the foundation’s giving is in northern Michigan.

Last summer, Briana accompanied Carol on a tour of Africa organized by Mary Fisher, artist, author, UN Special Representative on HIV/AIDS, and founder of the CARE Fund. The group toured clinics in Zambia, visited orphanages, and explored Mary’s new enterprise that helps AIDS-affected women earn a living, sustain their health, and care for their families.

More than 150 women have so far been trained to hand-crochet bracelets of bone, horn, and gemstones from Mary’s designs with 100 percent of the profits going to the artisans themselves.

“They create these amazing beaded bracelets for sale here in the US,” Carol says, displaying her own. “The money goes to build savings, buy homes, and send kids to school. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money to do a lot of good overseas.”

It doesn’t take a lot of money to do good back home either, especially when that commitment is matched by advocacy.

Carol is a board member of the Council of Michigan Foundations and an active member of their Public Policy Committee. She earned her master’s degree in public health from the University of Minnesota, and her background includes work in the Oklahoma State House of Representatives. The Paine Family Foundation was among many Michigan family philanthropies that provided important support for Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s Project Great Start, a set of early childhood initiatives.

“Politics is just an interest of mine,” she says, citing why she’s come to Foundations on the Hill. “I truly believe in working with whoever your elected representative is. It’s about building relationships, and family foundations and funds are good at that. We are all about relationships.”