Charity Champions: Education Has Long Been a Passion for Jim Kelly

Nominated by Cranbrook Educational Community, the founder of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is the recipient of the George W. Romney Award for Lifetime Achievement in Volunteerism
Jim Kelly
Jim Kelly

Each year, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ greater Detroit chapter
honors southeastern Michigan’s most dedicated volunteers, philanthropists, and fundraising professionals with its annual awards. 
Hour Detroit is pleased to partner with AFP to introduce 2021’s slate of charity champions ahead of National Philanthropy Day on Nov. 21.

It was a sleek art deco house in Grosse Pointe Farms that opened the doors for Jim Kelly to pour his time and talents into the Cranbrook Educational Community. 

Kelly and his wife, Mariam Noland, moved to Detroit in 1985 and purchased the Koebel House, which was designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen. Eliel was Cranbrook’s first resident architect, and Eero, his son, was the mastermind behind such striking architectural pieces as the famous arch in Kelly’s hometown of St. Louis.  

“I went out there to learn about the Saarinens, and it got me involved,” Kelly says. He started volunteering at Cranbrook, first with the art museum, then chairing its board, and later becoming a Cranbrook trustee and a life governor at the art academy, which are just some of the ways he’s supported the institution over the years. 

Education has long been a passion for Kelly, 87, who started off as a high school teacher. His career took him not only across the country, but even as far as Pakistan’s Punjab University. 

While enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Stanford, Kelly discovered a new path. “I realized that my real interest lay in how to change and improve education systems nationwide, not the local school district,” he says. That eventually led to him to found the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which he led until 1999, and he has also invested much of his time in a number of education-focused organizations over the years.  

He’s also passionate about ensuring that the next generation learns the importance of volunteering. “Kids growing up in America right now have no appreciation for the nonprofit world in real life,” Kelly says. That was the impetus behind Learning to Give, a nonprofit he founded that develops materials and curriculum for teachers to help their students learn about all the ways charitable contributions — whether it be time, talents, or money — and nonprofits shape America. 

Awards like those given by the Association of Fundraising Professionals are an important reflection of the country, too, according to Kelly. “Going through the annual process of honoring people who volunteer is at the core of so much of what is good about America,” he says. “It’s a nation of joiners, and at the local level, those people are volunteering their time and money and wisdom to help nonprofit organizations succeed and get better.”

This story is part of our Give Detroit package and is featured in the November 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.