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Tyler Nickerson sepcializes in public policy.

Tyler Nickerson works in grand Rapids for the Dyer-Ives Foundation.


Dyer-Ives Foundation

Waters Building, Suite 501-H
161 Ottawa, NW
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503

Tyler Nickerson

There are some who enjoy life by following the golden rule, and then there’s Tyler Nickerson, who strengthens others quite a bit more than he expects in return.
Working with the Dyer-Ives Foundation for a year now, Nickerson is manager of the foundation’s community based grant writing project, which is “designed to breed sustainability into the local nonprofit sector by building capacity to seek investments from national and regional foundation.” Basically, he works directly with nonprofit leaders to develop their programs, focusing on outcomes and impact, targeting possible foundation support, and providing resources to move through the process. Nickerson doesn’t concentrate on what the Dyer-Ives Foundation can lend to nonprofits, but rather finds what foundations across the country would be best suited to help them out.
Currently, the foundation is involved in workforce development, media, economic development, housing, safety, sustainability, and land use, among other projects.
“The CBGW project is designed to build capacity in nonprofit organizations in their quest for regional and national funding,” Nickerson said. “The work is centered around documenting the nonprofit work in Grand Rapids and where it is headed, cataloging funding opportunities, and providing direct support in seeking those funds. The last element is the biggest chunk of work and includes program development, grant writing, and funding strategy supports.”
Nickerson said he is fascinated about this project as it finds a foundation, typically seen as dedicated to funding nonprofit organizations, going further to improve its own grant making projects, as well as the sustainability and strength of its partners in the community. He said it’s what particularly resonates with him in this capacity.
“My background in public policy, particularly in the area that the foundation invests, and my love for working with all the diverse groups in town have made this position a great fit for me,” Nickerson said.
Nickerson worked on his first campaign at 16, before he could vote. He said he’s loved public policy and politics ever since that experience, where he learned about the ins and outs of changing one’s own community.
“We all have things we want to see change in this city and lot of then have to do with public policy,” Nickerson said. “Public policy shifts and molds behaviors, catalyzing some changes, and squashes others.”
After five years in the advocacy and lobbying world in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Washington,  D.C., helping to create opportunities for all people, build our physical environment, and support economic growth, Nickerson found his niche in land use, community, economies, and urban issues. The Dyer-Ives Foundation has particular interest in these areas. 
“That policy experience helps me now with nonprofit leaders as they incorporate best practices and the latest strategies into their work,” Nickerson said. “My experience in managing projects through sensitive and complex scenarios lends itself nicely to the foundation world.”
The technical aspect of Nickerson’s work involves spending a lot of time with each organization’s leaders and staff, assisting in developing their programs.
“We then will work together to inventory the organization’s funding relationships and potential connections to other foundations, and use that info to target funders. We then develop proposals accordingly and work with organizations as they go through the funding process and timeline.  
At the foundation, Nickerson helps to catalog opportunities with the intention of matching them up with local work that needs to be funded.  
“Fund development can be daunting and tedious, but the supports that we provide can help make the difference,” he said. “Dyer-ives is in the unique position of investing in organizations and working with them to seek other investments—a healthy tension that has deeply enriched our work.”
The success of the Dyer-Ives Foundation is not only measured in the number of proposals generated, but the capacity that is built within the organization.  
“Seeing the organization grow an acumen to funding throughout the process is our greatest accomplishment,” Nickerson said.
Based largely in Grand Rapids, the work of the Dyer-Ives Foundation is of particular interest to Nickerson, as he has deep connections to this community. While attending Grand Valley State University, he worked as a community organizer for the Eastown Community Association. It was his first opportunity to work with City Hall; the elected officials and citizens who effect change in the community.
“I was involved with some early housing related work focused creating safe and healthy housing options for all families in Grand Rapids, as strategic part of comprehensive community development,” Nickerson said. “I helped with other cool projects like producing (Eastown) Street Fair and developing the Hub Lot into the flex space it is currently becoming. And I was then offered a position at the Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness.”
Nickerson was able to work at all levels of government to advocate for policy changes in community and economic development, along with transportation.  He coordinated the successful passage of the single-family rental housing inspection program, advocated at the State level for multi-million dollar investments into housing and infrastructure development, and spent a year working at Disability Advocates of Kent County doing similar work, before heading to the Dyer-Ives foundation.
“During this time I also had the privilege of working on a few campaigns that have forever changed Grand Rapids,” Nickerson said. “I helped pass the millage in May 2011 to support the (Bus Rapid Transit) and greater services of The Rapid. I also worked on the campaign to keep the bus running in Walker, which we won with 76 percent of the vote.”
And Nickerson said he is most proud of his work as director of DecriminalizeGR with recent third ward commissioner candidate Michael Tuffelmire.  
“People first laughed at us when we started our quest to put the initiative to decriminalize marijuana on the ballot—they called us the ‘pot people.’ Ten thousand signatures later and support from 58 percent of Grand Rapidians in the 2012 election, this law is saving the lives of hundreds each month and thousands of tax payer dollars.”
Nickerson said he saw DCGR, an all-volunteer-citizen effort, as  a “necessary component of an open and inclusive society that uses taxpayer dollars wisely and eliminates opportunities for young people of color, the overwhelming majority that are affected by current marijuana laws, to go to jail.”
Last year in the city, Nickerson formed Motu Communications, a strategic communications consulting firm based on political communications and strategy, along with organizational and project management services in both the for profit and nonprofit sectors.
“I truly believe Grand Rapids is at a precipice,” Nickerson said. “Over the next five years, we are either grow to be a truly unique, attractive city that invests in its people, leaders, built environment, and urban neighborhoods, or not. Those investments will attract the next level of interest of businesses and young people, who are overwhelmingly urban. This isn't a right or left issue, this is our community's time to shine.”

Matthew Russell is the project editor of UIX Grand Rapids

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