How Jeannine Gant of Big Brothers Big Sisters Detroit affects humanity

Photo courtesy: Jeannine Grant
Photo courtesy: Jeannine Gant

“The vision of Big Brothers Big Sisters is to ensure that all children, regardless of background and circumstances, achieve success in life,” shares Jeannine Gant, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit. “We work with vulnerable, at-risk and high risk youth in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties between the ages of 8 – 18 years old. Most of our youth are from the city of Detroit.”

According to Gant, “A recent report from the White House highlights the continued need for organizations, like Big Brothers Big Sisters in helping to support at-risk youth. For example: The report focuses on the significant barriers that disadvantaged youth face in education, the criminal justice system, and employment. It draws significantly on data showing disparities that persist between young men of color and other Americans. Here’s a look at some of the starkest statistics:”


– Only 12 percent of Hispanic men and 21 percent of Black men have a college degree by their late 20s – compared to nearly 40 percent of White men.
– A Black male born 25 years ago has only a roughly 50 percent chance of being employed today – due to early death, incarceration, low labor force participation, and high unemployment.
– In 2011, the majority of state and federal prisoners were people of color. Black and Hispanic prisoners alone accounted for more than 60 percent of the total prison population – roughly double their share of the total U.S. population.
– More than 875,000 minors were arrested in 2013 – and young boys and men of color make up a substantial share of those arrested.
– The cost of incarceration is far higher than investing in education or other programs to increase opportunity. In fact, incarcerating a single juvenile costs more than $100,000 on average – twice as high as tuition at America’s most expensive college, or a year of intensive mentoring.
We are also seeing more restrictions in funding to serve certain youth, i.e. court involved youth. This is great for supporting those youth, but it restricts our ability to serve children who are vulnerable because they live in poverty, live in a home headed by a single mother, attend low achieving schools, or face numerous other challenges.

Read further to gain insight on nonprofit sustainability, nonprofit leaders who are making a difference, and how Gant stays motivated to effect change for humanity. –munson steed

What are the best practices you have found for developing programs?
Evidence based practices and research are most important for us in developing new programs. Donors and funders like to see accountability from the charities they support and we want to ensure our youth achieve the outcomes we promise when they register with us.


What are the two most important ways you generate revenue to sustain your nonprofit?
Our best type of sustainable funding comes from individuals who are willing to make both small and large donations to support our mission. We also depend greatly on corporate support, generally through sponsorship of programs and fundraisers.

Do you fund other nonprofits?
We do not fund other nonprofits, but we do partner with smaller nonprofit organizations who can benefit from our years of experience and evidence based practices.

What are the three areas that you focused on to help society?
We focus on impacting youth in our community by helping them to achieve academic successes, avoid risky behaviors that may land them in the juvenile justice system and support youth workforce development.

How do you utilize technology to serve your benefactors and to communicate your mission?
Big Brothers Big Sisters has Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to communicate with our supporters. We are currently testing a phone app that was created by a student at U of M. We also use text messaging to communicate with our volunteers and families.

Name nonprofits of equal size or scope who have a solid mission. Share why.
Our youth face so many challenges and every youth serving organization can play a role in supporting our kids. I appreciate The Children’s Center, who provides mental health services for children, including those who have been sexually abused. They also have foster care, adoption and services for children on the autism spectrum. Our children often face issues that are no fault of their own and The Children’s Center provides awesome professionals who can offer a spectrum of services. I also appreciate Playworks Michigan whose vision is to ensure that all children get to play every day. Too many schools have eliminated recess and as a result children are missing the opportunity for physical activity and the social skills to interact with peers. Playworks places a well trained adult in a low income school solely for the purposes of leveraging play to support student’s social, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Why is service so important to you?
Henry Ford has a quote that no greater obligation rests in the hands of a civilized society than their care and concern for its children. I love giving back to the community, in particular children, because I believe they are simply innocent beneficiaries of what we adults decide to do for them, whether good or bad. I pray that I can be of service to someone everyday because it feels so good to help.

When did you decide that being a non-profit professional spoke to your career goals?
I honestly “fell” into non-profits after I decided I didn’t have the personality or confidence at the time to be a television reporter which was my major in college. I guess I got the non-profit bug after my first job with the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

What are three of the nonprofit leaders whose work you respect and appreciate?
Debra Matthews, CEO, The Children’s Center; Hester Wheeler, chief innovation officer, Black Family Development and former executive director of the NAACP Detroit branch; and Jill Vialet, founder and CEO of Playworks.

Name the business leaders whose philosophy on giving of personal wealth you respect. Share why.
Naming just three is so hard. I’ve had an opportunity to work with so many wonderfully generous donors over my career. Paul Glantz, CEO and founder of Emagine Theaters. I had a chance to work with Paul when I was a director of Development at the Wayne State School of Business and I really like that he gives back to the school and affords an opportunity for youth to get an education. Lisa and Bill Ford because philanthropy is simply a part of how they live. It was not unusual to see Lisa in the office hanging out with staff. And Jim and Ann Nicholson because they give and support from their heart and again, it’s how their entire family lives. Giving is simply a part of these people. These people don’t just give, they engage in really making a difference.

What advice would you give an individual looking to start a nonprofit?
Check out your competition. Just because you are nonprofit does not mean you don’t have completion for donors, dollars and clients. Bench mark best practices in your area of service. Schedule meetings with others in the field to learn what they are doing and how you can differentiate your organization. Try to find a fee for service component to your organization to help build financial sustainability.
What would your graduation speech be to college student about becoming a nonprofit professional? Don’t expect to get rich, in terms of a salary. Non profits are not an “easy” way out. Nonprofits are simply companies that are not in the business to make a profit, but to fulfill a mission instead. You will need to leverage everything you have learned in college to secure and keep your job. The great thing about nonprofit work, in my experience, is that you will get broad exposure to your field of interest. Nonprofits are usually lean and will use your many talents in a variety of areas to help support the mission.

My work is fulfilling because …
I know youth are directly benefiting from the work that I do.

Effecting change for humanity means …
Living beyond the needs of yourself to impact the needs of many.

Giving to a social cause is good because …
It helps you to feel a part of the solution.

I want to make a difference for humanity because …
People need to know that we are in this together: one human race with a responsibility to help, love and care for each other.

Name books and authors that inspire you.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle; The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

Name your two favorite vacation spots to recharge.
Any beach in Florida and any place that is without cellphone access.

What four things must you place in your bags when you take a trip?
Honestly … my facial moisturizer, flip-flops, a good book or magazine and comfy PJs.

Name two types of music you listen to while traveling.
Gospel and house

List two quotes that you live by.
“Sometimes you have to take a leap and build your wings on the way down.”

“Is that going to make your top ten?” (When you’re old and thinking about the most important things in your life, is that thing you are upset about right now at the moment going to make that list? If not, let it go.)

Name thee role models who changed your life.
My mom, my dad and Oprah (LOL, but true)

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