Guys Who Give brings men together to support nonprofits' work in Kalamazoo and beyond

Those interested in checking out the organization can contact Cody Livingston, President of Guys Who Give – Kalamazoo County through email,  its Facebook page, or its website and submit an inquiry.
Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

Let’s have all the guys get together four times a year.
No meeting will go more than an hour – guaranteed. But we’ll lead into each meeting with a 5 p.m. social hour, so fellas can have a drink after work and can socialize if they want.
There will be no name tags. Jeans will do. If we bowl a few frames or a game of darts breaks out over beers, that’ll work. And, oh yeah, let’s make sure we give a few thousand dollars to charity before we head home.
“At its core, we’re a giving circle,” says Cody Livingston, president of Guys Who Give – Kalamazoo County.
Through Wednesday, June 22, 2022, Maggie Hesketh, executive director of First Day Shoe Fund, says she had purchased 7,399 pair of shoes for kids in need through this week.It’s a group of people who come together to pool their resources and support a charity. But Livingston, of Kalamazoo, and his brother Justin, now of Colorado, have streamlined the concept to make it an attractive way for men to have a quick but meaningful impact on the community.
“The goal is to try to get 100 local guys, for one hour, once a quarter, to give $100, in an effort to give a $10,000 or more gift each quarter to the local community,” says Livingston.
He and his brother grew up in a middle-class family in the Battle Creek area “with our parents being involved in the community and all of that,” he says. As adults, he says they were looking for a way to try to give back to the community a few years ago. A meaningful effort usually involves a significant investment of time.
“But the thing that especially guys value the most, that we don’t like to give up, is time,” he says. “So the whole concept is we ask guys for one hour, once a quarter, to come together. And we all talk about local nonprofits. We nominate one to be our local recipient each quarter.”
The First Day Shoe Fund provides new athletic shoes (sneakers) to any public school student in need in Kalamazoo County.The results have been quarterly awards that have ranged from more than $13,000 to more than $16,000 over the past two years, despite the COVID-19 shut down. Although the pandemic tempered the organization’s in-person gatherings, some members have bolstered the quarterly donations by making larger-than-required contributions, Livingston says.  During the first quarter of this year, for instance, the organization was able to give Girls on The Run in Kalamazoo a $16,300 gift.
Those efforts are appreciated by Maggie Hesketh, executive director of the First Day Shoe Fund.
“It will enable us to buy enough shoes to make sure that every student who asks for shoes gets a pair that fits them,” says Hesketh.
The 17-year-old First Day Shoe Fund provides new athletic shoes (sneakers) to any public school student in need in Kalamazoo County, from preschool through grade five. It was the second recipient to receive support from Guys Who Give when the men’s group started five years ago. The fund received $3,100 in the fourth quarter of 2017. On Wednesday, it received $15,200 from the organization, making it the first nonprofit to receive a second donation from Guys Who Give.
Don Solesbee, a member of Guys Who Give, says he learns about a new nonprofit at each of the organization’s quarterly gatherings.  Any recipient organization has to go at least two years before it can be considered for a second donation from Guys Who Give. Organizations have to serve Kalamazoo County and be state recognized 501c3 nonprofits to qualify.
“Realistically, that’s a massive sum of money for us,” says Hesketh. “That’s about 1,000 pairs of shoes that will help support the growth in our organization.”
For the coming school year, she says she has thus far purchased 7,399 pairs of shoes for kids in need.
The First Day Shoe Fund is connected with 46 schools in nine area school districts, It asks the schools to reach out to families who can use help. It collects the shoe sizes requested by families and tries to outfit their children with new shoes they will like and wear. Hesketh says the number of shoes the fund will provide this fall is a moving target, based on requests it receives from Aug. 22 through the third week of September and it is also based on funding it receives in grants, private donations, and through corporate giving.
The First Day Shoe Fund provides new athletic shoes (sneakers) to any public school student in need in Kalamazoo County.About 4,200 pairs of shoes were provided in 2019. Last year 5,200 were provided. Hesketh estimated that number may grow to about 6,500 this year.
Don Solesbee says he learns about a new nonprofit organization at every Guys Who Give gathering.
“Everyone Cody meets gets introduced to Guys Who Give,” Solesbee says with a laugh. “And I just thought it was a great thing. It’s a great way to give back (to the community).”
Along with that, it has come to include a great cross-section of men in the community, from seasoned executives who know lots about money and the community, to younger men who are just finding their way in the working world.
Maggie Hesketh, executive director of First Day Shoe Fund,  receives a major gift on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, from members of Guys Who Give. From left, they are Tim Evans, Don Solesbee, and Cody Livingston.Livingston says the group is all men because he and his brother wanted to get more men involved in an area where they seem to be underrepresented.
“What we found is there are so many women in the nonprofit community doing such great things,” Livingston says. “It’s very rare that you see men. You’ll have a board of an organization with 10 people and eight of them are women, which is fantastic. …”
But he says he was looking for a way “to get men to be engaged in the same way women are leading in this space.” The organization’s concept embraces the idea that many men are already busy with their families and extracurriculars.
By word of mouth and by having members recruit others, it has grown to include about 130 local members and it hopes to grow that to 200. And the organization is trying to diversify its membership.
Cody Livingston, president of Guys Who Give – Kalamazoo County, center, shakes hands on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, with group member Scott Everett, in white shirt, after they present a $15,200 donation to First Day Shoe Fund.“One of our core missions is to try and reach every corner of our community,” Livingston says. “And what we have discovered is that although we are a very diverse group from the perspective of having a retired Stryker executive (as well as working men, other professionals), and we have young guys who had to order a checkbook so that they can participate and write a check to a local organization -- as we come together as a group of people, we look around the room and we realize it’s a bunch of White guys.”
He says the group wants to impact the entire community, so it is trying to connect with potential new members in Kalamazoo County’s Black and Brown communities.
“The nonprofits that are brought to our attention tend to be those that we touch,” Solesbee says. “… We are doing our best to diversify the culture within our group of guys in Kalamazoo, specifically because if we can get more culture in our group then we should also be able to get a greater reach within those 2,100 nonprofits that maybe a group of White guys wouldn’t touch.” (The Guys Who Give say there are more than 2,100 registered nonprofits in Kalamazoo County.)
Don Solesbee, a member of Guys Who Give, says he learns about a new nonprofit at each of the organization’s quarterly gatherings.Solesbee and Livingston say an award recipient has to be nominated by a committed member of the group. “And so if we don’t have representation from every portion of our community, these organizations are not having the light shown on them that they deserve,” Livingston says.
Those interested in learning more about the organization can contact Livingston at Kalamazoo@GuysWhoGive.org, through its Facebook page or its website. He invites interested men to submit an inquiry.
Livingston, 38, and his brother Justin, 41, grew up in the Battle Creek area in a home that appreciated community service. Both are grads of Battle Creek Lakeview High School. Cody moved to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. He graduated in 2007 and now works for business technologies firm Aunalytics.  Justin graduated from Grand Valley State University in Allendale in 2003 and now operates a franchise consulting business in Boulder, Colo. Working together they started chapters of Guys Who Give five years ago in Boulder County, Colo., and in Kalamazoo County.
Cody Livingston leads a meeting of Guys Who Give at a 2019 meeting at 600 Kitchen and Bar in downtown Kalamazoo. Courtesy photo“This August will be our five-year anniversary,” Cody says, “and we’re coming up on $250,000 raised for local Kalamazoo County 501c3s. So we’re extremely proud of how this group has performed over the last five years.
During that time, the 12 chapters combined have given more than $1.3 million to organizations in their communities, Livingston says.
The organization is itself a nonprofit but has no significant overhead. The Livingston brothers maintain its website, and members volunteer to help with events that always take place on the second Wednesday of the second month of each quarter (February, May, August, and November). In Kalamazoo, they currently meet at Revel & Roll West entertainment center on Stadium Drive.
The organization is growing, however, and now has 12 chapters, including those in Kent County; North Dallas, Texas; Denver County, Colo.; and Vancouver, Canada. Each makes donations exclusively to nonprofit organizations that serve their home counties. And each started with a lead member attending a group meeting at an existing chapter.
Committed members of Guys Who Give are invited to bring a blank check to each meeting and fill in the name of the recipient nonprofit after the group takes a vote and picks a winner. Any committed member can nominate a nonprofit organization he thinks is worthy of support. Three of them are drawn from a hat at each meeting and the nominating member does a presentation explaining why they are a compelling choice. Each presentation is a solo flight involving just the member who made the nomination, with no graphics, technology, or guest speakers. Each presentation has to be done in less than five minutes.
While Livingston says the concept of a giving circle is not original, he says, “The beauty of our concept is that if we all get together and we pool our efforts and our resources, we can make real change and real impact with these organizations that are serving our communities by simply coming together and doing it.”

Photos by Fran Dwight, unless otherwise indicated. See more of her work here.

Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.