Leaving a Philanthropic Footprint


In April 2013, Dan Akerson and his wife, Karin, received Habitat for Humanity Detroit’s Sponsor of the Year award. The couple made significant donations to the cause after touring Morningside Commons on Detroit’s far east side.

“[They] were particularly struck by the number of vacant homes and lots that surrounded the two neighborhood schools,” says Vincent Tilford, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Detroit.

The Akersons’ response was a $1 million donation to support the Leaders to Rebuild Detroit campaign, which encourages others to keep helping Habitat for Humanity Detroit over the long term. The Akersons have done so with another donation that came from the auction of their mint condition 1958 Corvette.

“Dan’s work in Detroit was not only generous financially,” Tilford says, “but it also raised the profile of substandard poverty housing and the huge need throughout Michigan for safe, decent, and affordable homes.”

Habitat for Humanity is just one example of the Akersons’ philanthropy, both in Detroit and other cities. They’re on target to leave a considerable philanthropic footprint in Detroit.

In 2012, Akerson also chaired the annual Support Our Capuchin Kitchen event in Detroit. “Thanks to a very large donation from Mr. Akerson and his wife … proceeds topped $1 million, more than ever before in its 40-year-history” says Brother Jerry Smith, executive director of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. “We believe that because of his leadership, a number of other GM employees became interested in our organization and have continued to volunteer in our programs and support us financially.”

Akerson, meanwhile, has worked with his company’s own philanthropic organization, says Vivian Pickard, president of the GM Foundation. “We have a sharp focus on education that can be seen through our national Buick Achievers Scholarship Program,” she says. The foundation also offered a $27.1 million grant to the United Way for Southeastern Michigan for local high schools.

The list goes on, but Akerson prefers to quietly give and not get a lot of credit. However, helping others is something he feels strongly about.

“Matthew said, ‘Without cost, you were given; without cost you are to give,'” he says, referring to a quote from the Bible. “I have been very lucky in my life — blessed — and I don’t know how anybody could walk through parts of this town and see children that are really victimized by poverty, lack of homes, and not do something about it.”