In West Michigan, wealthy families tend not to compete on status symbols like clothes and cars but instead compete on the basis of who can give the most to charity. The DeVos family is the state of Michigan’s top philanthropic family, having given away more than $1.2 billion over the last 40 years. The staggering amount of charitable giving places the family firmly within the national ranks and largest philanthropic families. A recent Forbes article ranks the DeVos family a the 24th largest lifetime givers of charitable contributions currently living in the United States.
And Dick DeVos certainly has not shied away from this family tradition of magnanimity. The 61 year old businessman, best known for his 2006 highly publicized gubernatorial race, has given away millions upon millions of dollars, along with his wife Betsy DeVos. All told, Dick and Betsy DeVos have given away well over $100 million, over the course of their lifetimes, of their own personal money. Much of this philanthropy, in contrast to that of their father Rich DeVos, the billionaire cofounder of Amway, has been focused exclusively on Michigan in general and Grand Rapids in particular. For the DeVos family, charity truly begins at home.
Because of DeVos’ highly public run for the governorship of Michigan in 2006, many people automatically associate his name with politics. But when it comes to charitable giving, DeVos is decidedly apolitical. His political contributions have recently come to light as a result of his wife’s vetting for the post of Secretary of Education. It has come out that the DeVos family’s political contributions pale in comparison to their direct contributions to charitable causes and other philanthropic activities outside of the realm of politics.
The area that the DeVos family has most focused on with their philanthropy is education. Michigan has long suffered from a large number of failing schools. DeVos has been a staunch supporter of vouchers and charter schools, which he says have accumulated a great deal of solid evidence of being able to provide the structure and pro-learning environment that many inner city schools have been unable to provide, over the last 50 years. In fact, a great deal of the $11 million that DeVos gave to charity in 2013 was directed towards inner city charter school programs. However, DeVos is quick to point out that these donations in no way were political in nature. The money went directly into the students hands or into programs that the students directly use.