Helmut Stern was a true Renaissance figure. Fellow community leaders who knew him describe him in inimitable ways: One of the best human beings I ever met. Incredibly generous across this community including many anonymous gifts. He had a profound influence on my work and on my life.

His biography reads like a true American success story: a German immigrant who barely escaped the Nazis who worked hard while taking college courses, and applied intelligence, ingenuity and determination to inventions and entrepreneurial ventures that brought business success. Helmut Stern also cultivated a life beyond corporations—pursuing passions in art and music, a love for friends and family, and community service for the region he loved since coming to Ann Arbor in 1942.

Because much of his giving was anonymous—Helmut agreed to have things named for him only to inspire others—we will not know the full extent of generosity during his lifetime. We do know that his generosity to the community will likely be unparalleled.

Helmut Stern loved the Ann Arbor area, and he chose to give back to his community through his estate in a powerful and lasting way: a $16.2 million unrestricted gift! 

We believe Helmut gave to the community through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) because we serve the entire community and can distribute support broadly and forever. We believe his unrestricted gift is reflective of his intent to give back to his community in the ultimate sense.

A savvy business leader, we believe Helmut Stern understood the importance of unrestricted philanthropy. In business, commercial investors don’t give money to companies and dictate usage for only a limited purpose. Rather, they trust the organization’s leadership to direct an investment for maximum impact.

Giving “unrestricted” support does not mean that there is no accountability or a lack of regulation! Rather, it means that giving is not restricted by personal or social whims. Unrestricted support provides the ultimate flexibility for an organization to achieve its mission—with AAACF, grantmaking to the community that is broad and diverse.

We term our unrestricted funds as “Community Impact Funds” for this reason. Our competitive grantmaking comprises dozens of such named permanent funds that are collectively pooled for impact and distributed as a percentage annually to nonprofit grantees determined by a committee of community volunteers.

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