Dr. Russell G. Mawby

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Role Models
West Michigan
Russell G. Mawby has earned a global reputation as a thoughtful and visionary leader of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Biographical Highlights

Russell G. Mawby has earned a global reputation as a thoughtful and visionary leader in effective philanthropy. Known for his quarter-century stewardship of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, one of the world’s largest grantmaking institutions, Russ’s tenure was marked by creative programs including unprecedented opportunities for youth and leadership in the field of philanthropy. He actively continues to guide and advise those who continue the major philanthropic efforts launched during his career. An admirable example of lifelong intellectual curiosity, Russ continues to be involved in new ventures, as well.

Waldemar Nielsen, author of The Big Foundations and The Golden Donors, writes, “. . . it could be said that what he (W.K. Kellogg) may have lacked in style, he more than made up in substance. The same is true about his foundation and about Mawby . . . his (Mawby’s) record as an administrator and in program matters is impressive. He may indeed be the most underrated foundation head in the business.

“The changes he (Mawby) has introduced in the Kellogg program reflect responsiveness to changing social needs and priorities . . . Kellogg must be ranked very high among the genuinely creative and productive major American Foundations.

“It is an admirable example of a shirtsleeve, midwestern fund working effectively on a range of problems overlooked by most foundations . . . It stands as the finest large American foundation west of the Atlantic seaboard.”

Robert DeVries, a retired program officer at the foundation, recalled Mawby as a “creative, hands-on administrator . . . (whose) Midwestern values were ever present in the grants review process.

“He was dedicated to helping people help themselves. He had an uncanny ability to judge risk and wasn’t afraid to take that risk (in making charitable grants) when there was potential for significant social gain.”

By the time Russ Mawby retired in 1995, the Kellogg Foundation had $6 billion in assets and made annual grants of approximately $270 million on four continents.


Historic Roots

Born in 1928, Russell G. Mawby grew up on his family’s apple farm just north of Grand Rapids, Michigan. One of four children of Wesley and Ruby (Finch) Mawby, Russ’s optimistic approach to life grew out of the values of family and church, and especially his father’s emphasis on “people and relationships.”

“At a young age, I learned life gives each of us challenges and opportunities, and you make the best of them. The first two weeks of May were always critical on our fruit farm. If the temperature dropped to 27 degrees, we’d lose part of the apple crop when some apple blossoms froze. If it went below 27 degrees, the whole year’s crop was lost.” Mawby’s father also taught him that whatever happened, life went on.

While attending a two-room elementary school, and then Creston High School in Grand Rapids, Mawby participated in the community 4-H programs and Boy Scouts, and later earned his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Michigan State University in 1949.

In that same summer, Mawby worked at a Kent County 4-H youth camp, where he met a young woman on the staff named Ruth Edison.

“On our first date, I think we went to a Ma and Pa Kettle movie, one of those comedies. We often laughed about it. Ruth said I saw her in the worst possible situation because she was always dressed informally or was with a camper who was homesick or had a stomach ache.” Russ and Ruth married in 1950, and lived  briefly in Indiana while Mawby completed his master’s degree in agricultural economics at Purdue University.

Returning to MSU, Mawby worked on his Ph.D. degree and as an extension specialist in public policy with the university before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1953. He was assigned as a field artillery instructor and earned the rank of corporal.

Honorably discharged, Mawby returned to MSU, his doctorate studies and a faculty assignment. In 1956, he was named assistant director of MSU’s Cooperative Extension Service, responsible for statewide youth development programs and 4-H work. The Mawbys settled into a comfortable life and adopted three children, Douglas, David and Karen.

In late 1964, Mawby received an unexpected telephone call from the director of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s division of agriculture in Battle Creek. The foundation was looking for someone to become their new division director and MSU President John A. Hannah had recommended Mawby to the foundation.

Leaving the university faculty and 4-H work was a tough decision for Mawby, “but I realized it was a great opportunity. And I was attracted by what I’d read about Mr. Kellogg and about the Kellogg Foundation. The Foundation was a pioneer in helping smaller communities, rural people and youth.”

He was promoted to vice president in 1967 and three years later, at age 43, was named chief executive officer of the Foundation. Russ continued in that role until he retired in 1995, after which he served as a Trustee until 2000. He is now an Honorary Trustee of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

It was under Russ’s leadership that the Foundation established Philanthropy and Volunteerism as a major focus of grantmaking, one of the first foundations to do so. However, it was by combining the goals of youth development with the creation of long-term organizational structures to support philanthropy that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation truly distinguished itself from other philanthropic institutions.



Under Russ’s guidance, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation became the national leader in providing spport and funding for innovative programs in numerous fields including: adult continuing education, access to primary health care, and leadership development, especially through the Kellogg National Fellowship Program.

A significant and special quality of grantmaking during Russ’s tenure was the Kellogg Foundation’s interest in listening to those issues important to the people of Michigan and addressing them at the community level where concerns often go unheard. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation developed a unique reputation as a foundation that trusts the leadership and wisdom of local leaders in identifying their own problems and creating the appropriate solutions.

In an effort to provide assistance in the areas where help is most needed, to encourage the creation of new philanthropic resources, and to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the grantmaking process, Russ joined with other grantmaking leaders across the state to form the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF). Russ served as chair of the first  conference of Michigan foundations at which CMF was created and is a founding member and chair emeritus of the Council. Michigan is fortunate to now have the largest and strongest regional association of grantmakers in the nation.

In 1988, CMF worked with community foundations throughout the state to request grant support that would make it possible for every community in Michigan to have access to a community foundation. Community foundations, as locally-based and community-funded endowments composed of many individual gifts, provide a vehicle through which every citizen can become a grantmaker and a place where community economic assets can be preserved and grow over time.

The request to the Kellogg Foundation resulted in funding as a challenge grant. The challenge hd two parts: first, each community foundation was required to raise new endowment  gifts from donors to match Kellogg’s gift; and second, each grantee was required to establish a Youth Advisory Council (YAC). The Kellogg Foundation funds created a permanently endowed youth fund at each community foundation with the YAC involved in fundraising and in making grants for youth programming. In response, the CMF initiative promised that:

  1. every community in Michigan would have access to a community foundation;
  2. the community foundations would have a permanent youth advisory committee providingy oung people with the power to make grants; and,
  3. each community foundation would be assisted to grow as a healthy organization.

Russ helped not only to provide $64 million in Kellogg funding for this local community foundation effort, but actively assisted local community leaders by giving speeches, providing recognition and making telephone calls. He remained steadfast in his belief that it is critical to trust young people and give them real economic power to make a difference in their communities.

Ten years of research document that all Michigan communities now have access to a community foundation as a permanent philanthropic resource. Most have a youth advisory council that allows Michigan young people to experience the power of local philanthropic leadership. This grant permanently enhanced giving and service in Michigan, across both the geography of the state and across generations.

Reflecting back on her own nearly 30 years of knowing Russ, WKKF Trustee and retired Council of Michigan Foundations President Dorothy Johnson observed, “During all the years of my work with Russ, and our friendship, we traveled a great deal by car around Michigan visiting foundations, for meetings, conferences and presentations. And you know, Russ rarely took the Interstate (highway). He wanted to explore the back roads, Russell G. Mawby different routes to getting places—the opportunity to chat with people at gas stations or restaurants in small town restaurants.

“And that was essentially the approach he took at Kellogg (Foundation). He wanted to move forward, but he also wanted the Foundation’s programming to explore new approaches—new roads—to solving problems. And he wanted the programming to reflect the views, the needs and the aspirations of people.”

The community foundations’ youth project experience led CMF and the Kellogg Foundation to undertake a new joint effort: offering K-12 education a high-quality pool of teacher-created, standards-based lessons so that students could explore, experience and understand the powerful roles of volunteerism, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector. Under Russ’s leadership as founding chair of the board of advisors, a truly distinctive educational program—Learning to Give—was launched. Classroom teachers have written more than 700 lesson plans, activities, and resources to educate youth about the power of philanthropy (sharing time, talent and treasure), all of which are available free of charge at www.learningtogive.org. “Teaching the importance of voluntary action for the common good” is now being integrated into school curricula across the United States and has beenn replicated in South Korea.

With CMF’s success, Russ and state philanthropic leaders recognized that grantmaking organizations were well represented, but Michigan had no
state organization to provide support to its numerous and diverse nonprofit organizations. Kellogg’s continuing leadership in developing permanent Michigan nonprofit resources resulted in the creation of the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA). Continuing a personal commitment of time and leadership, Russ became MNA’s founding chair. MNA started withbten statewide organizations and now representsbapproximately 800 nonprofits. It has become a national model and a significant contributor to the philanthropic sector.

When the federal government began serious discussions about creating a Corporation for National and Community Service, the Kellogg Foundation was engaged in national, state, and local efforts to encourage development of systems to support active volunteerism. Michigan was one of the first states in the nation to create a commission (the Michigan Community Service Commission, or MCSC) to help funnel federal and state funds in support of Ameri- Corps, Volunteers in Philanthropy, the Senior Volunteer Corps and VISTA in local communities. Russ continues to give his time and energy as a member of the Commission to ensure the venture’s success.


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

During his Kellogg tenure, Russ was active in the Council on Foundations, the national organization of grantmaking foundations, serving on the board of trustees and as its chairman. He also served on the board of trustees and as chair of the Foundation Center, the information clearinghouse for foundations, and provided special leadership for a financial initiative to update and expand the Center’s computerized information system.

Another of Russ’s interests was that of integrating the fields of philanthropy, volunteerism, and nonprofit management into the teaching, research, and outreach programs of institutions of higher education. Several individual faculty members had undertaken research and teaching activities related to nonprofit organizations, but most efforts were fragmented and limited in scope. Indiana University launched the most serious and comprehensive development of a new academic discipline and knowledge resource in its Center on Philanthropy at their Indianapolis campus. The Kellogg Foundation was a supporter of this effort from its early beginnings and Russ has continued to be involved through the years. Consistent with the Kellogg Foundation’s tradition, Russ wanted to explore the possible benefit of such a university-based center in Michigan. After informal discussions with many leaders in 1990, he invited the presidents of all of the state’s colleges and universities to a meeting to consider possible interest in creating such a university based resource for Michigan. It was Grand Valley State University, led by President Don Lubbers, which assumed leadership and created the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership.

This extraordinary leadership in creating permanent resources to support giving, grantmaking, nonprofits, volunteers, and in the serious scholarship of the third sector has transformed not only Michigan, but the United States and communities across the world.

Russ’s leadership in the field of philanthropy has been recognized and honored in many ways. Along with his leadership of CMF, MNA, MCSC, and CMA, he has served on the boards of the Kellogg Company, the J. M. Smucker Company, Michigan State University, Starr Commonwealth, the Battle Creek Community Foundation, and Michigan’s Children. Russ’s contributions to literally dozens of professions have been recognized by 20 universities that have awarded him honorary doctorates, including an honorary doctorate of humanities in 1988 from Grand Valley State University. The nation of Norway chose to honor Russ by bestowing a knighthood upon him.

Russ helped to shape the philanthropic landscape by example, intellect, and advocacy. He is a mentor to many of the field’s professionals who view him as a personal friend and advisor. He has testified before Congress on key issues affecting the philanthropic arena and conversed with governmental, academic, business, and policy leaders on issues ranging from health coverage for uninsured children, to microenterprise in South America, to grant activities to ease the transition from apartheid in South Africa.


Key Related Ideas

Among the many ideas related to Mawby’s work and accomplishments are:

  • Altruism: Unselfish concern or giving for the welfare of others; selflessness.
  • Charity: An institution, organization, or fund established to help the needy. Benevolence or generosity toward others or humanity. 
  • Foundation: Funds for the perpetualsupport of an institution or endowment.
  • Philanthropy: The love of humankind; sharing of time, talents and treasures for the common good.
  • Stewardship: Caring for another’s property, finances or other affairs.


Important People Related to the Topic

  • Dorothy A. Johnson: President Emeritus of the Council of Michigan Foundations who served as its president for 25 years. She currently serves as a trustee of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and as trustee of the Grand Valley State University Board among many other volunteer roles.
  • W.K. Kellogg (1860-1951): Founder of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation whose fortune came from the discovery of “flaking grain” that became the basis for the Kellogg cereal company in Battle Creek, Michigan.
  • Sterling Speirn: Current president and chief executive officer of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
  • Related Nonprofit Organizations and Web Sites
  • ConnectMichigan Alliance’s mission is to promote and strengthen a life-long ethic of service and civic engagement through the support of community building initiatives. www.connectmichiganalliance.org
  • Corporation for National and Community Service: Created in 1993, the Corporation for National Service is a public-private partnership that engages Americans of all ages in service. https://www.nationalservice.gov/ 
  • Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) is a membership association of more than 400 grantmakers working together to strengthen, promote and increase philanthropy in Michigan.
  • https://www.michiganfoundations.org/s_cmf/index.asp
  • Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Grand Valley State University provides education and community research services for nonprofit, community & foundation organizations by developing new initiatives such as the Community Research Institute, the Grantmaking School and the Nonprofit Good Practice Guide. ww.gvsu.edu/jcp
  • Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC) builds a culture of service by providing vision and resources to strengthen communities through volunteerism. www.michigan.gov/mcsc
  • Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) enhances the effectiveness of the Michigan nonprofit sector in serving society by providing useful information in the form of resources, publications, training, special events, research and public policy discussion. www.mnaonline.org
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation ranks among the world’s largest private foundations. Grants are awarded in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, and southern Africa. www.wkkf.org
  • Russell G. Mawby Collection: Speeches and field notes of Dr. Russell G. Mawby, the Chairman and CEO Emeritus of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Mawby collection documents the accomplishments of a central leader in the statewide and national philanthropic fields during a pivital period of time in their history, beginning with the run-up to the Tax Reform Act of 1969 to the present day. Includes StoryCorps interview of Mawby. 
  • Russell G. Mawby finding aid [PDF] Detailed listing of materials in the Russell G. Mawby collection.



  • Nielsen, Waldemar. The Big Foundations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972. ISBN-10: 0231036655
  • Nielsen, Waldemar. The Golden Donors. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1985. ISBN-10: 0525243666.
  • Richmond, James M. “Russ Mawby Carries on W.K. Kellogg’s Love of Battle Creek.” The Battle Creek Enquirer, 2007.
  • Richmond, James M. Russell G. Mawby: Recollections of the Man Whose Epitaph would say ‘He Cared.’ Draft Manuscript, 2006.