In 1955, Richard Marvin “Dick” DeVos Jr. was born into a family that believed in hard work and entrepreneurship. It began with his father, Rick DeVos, co-founder of Amway. A native of Michigan, DeVos has strong civic ties to the state. In 1990, he won his election for a seat on the Michigan State Board of Education. A short six years later, then-governor John Engler appointed DeVos to the Grand Valley State University Board of Control. In 1993, Devos and his wife, Betsy, were co-chairs of the Education Freedom Fund, which provides private scholarships to families of low income. It seems this was the beginning of the Devos spirit of giving.
DeVos was co-chairman of the “Kids First! Yes!” campaign committee. This committee sponsored an initiative that would amend the Michigan constitution to accept vouchers and tuition tax credits for private K-12 education. The Devoses also created the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation which has given monetary donations to such groups as the American Education Reform Council, Choices for Children and Children First America. They also fund Christian schools in the West Michigan area. But, their greatest money gifts are those that go to charitable contributions. These will add up to nearly $139 million over their lifespans. And because of the sheer amount of their contributions, they have several vocal critics. Thus, the DeVoses are disclosing the truth of their giving.
In 2015, the DeVoses handed out $11.6 million in contributions. It is believed that the DeVos family lifetime giving should be assessed at about 1.33 billion. This amounts to approximately one quarter of the DeVos estimated $5.2 billion fortune. Just over $3 million of these donations were to educational causes. A second award of their foundation was $357,000 toward groups that support education reform. Other foundation donations went to various universities and academies in the state of Michigan, but also donated to Potter’s House in Wyoming and Rehoboth Christian School in New Mexico. Devos says that their donations reflect their main concern of improving education, and not just in their home state.
DeVos critics accuse the family of such extreme charitable giving to create a “smokescreen” to hide their donations to political interests. In 2006, DeVos had a failed run for governor of Michigan. He never put his hat in the ring again. A spokesman for the couple, John Truscott, states that the DeVos report of charitable giving is transparent, and the bulk of the donations given are aimed at giving direct help to the recipients. Although the DeVoses believe in strengthening the institution of education, they also donate to civic and community causes, leadership and development, Health & Human Services and churches.
The Devoses tend to donate without any strings attached. It seems they don’t need to know how the money is spent. However, they earmark donations when the cause is somewhere that they can make a difference. One example of this is their investment in physicians and a researcher in childhood cancers. They feel that this connection has helped raise the survival rate of patients with deadly childhood cancers at the local Helen DeVos’ Children’s Hospital.
These days, the DeVos children are also involved in the foundation. Dick and Betsy said that the fresh perspectives of their children help find places that they could be investing further. Thus, the foundation added the word “family” to its name.