Madonna has always had an eye on Detroit as a place she wanted to give back, said Sarah Ezzy, senior adviser at Global Philanthropy Group in Los Angeles, which has been managing the pop star’s philanthropy for about five years.

“It was just finding the right way to do that” and the right time, she said.

Detroit’s move through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in a bid to start fresh certainly drew Madonna’s eye, Ezzy said.

Her availability to pay a visit last year was another consideration. “For her, being there is very important, going and meeting folks,” Ezzy said.

Last year, while visiting Detroit, Madonna connected with Rock Ventures LLCChairman Dan Gilbert and Vice President Lisa Dancsok to get a sense of the charitable efforts happening in the city.

“They really helped introduce us to some parts of the city and what was going on there,” Ezzy said. “We had a great connection with them and tried to work together to figure out what would be a good blend of things for Madonna to see. … It’s very much an ongoing conversation with them.”

Ezzy said Madonna was inspired by what she saw.

Those visits led Madonna, who grew up in Rochester as Madonna Louise Ciccone, to make highly publicized gifts of undisclosed amounts to the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Programtoward the new gym it opened in August, the charter Detroit Achievement Academy toward supplies and The Empowerment Plan, a nonprofit that trains homeless women to manufacture coats that convert into sleeping bags.

Madonna also visited the Empowerment Plan. At left, she wears a coat sewn by one of their seamstresses in June 2014.
The three organizations impressed Madonna in that they share an entrepreneurial approach, Ezzy said, “finding hope out of situations that are difficult.”

While in Detroit early this month as part of her 2015 tour, Madonna again visited the Detroit Boxing Gym to meet and work with the kids. And her philanthropy advisers paid another visit to the other two grantees.

“We are very actively engaged with all three of them,” Ezzy said.

Madonna has gone deeper with her funding of them, as opposed to wider with funding for other Detroit charities for the moment, Ezzy said.

“All three are still growing and evolving so there’s additional support they’re looking for.”

But Madonna’s grants to the three Detroit causes are the beginning of a longer philanthropic relationship with the city, she said.

“Obviously, she has a lifetime history with Detroit — this isn’t just a fly-in, fly-out relationship.”

Support for the three is coming from Madonna’s Ray of Light Foundation, which she alone funds, Ezzy said.

However, “she’s not shy about using her social media to highlight her giving and encourage others to give directly to those efforts,” Ezzy said.

Madonna donated $6.5 million to her Ray of Light Foundation in 2013, the year of its most recent tax filing available to the public. And the foundation made $2.25 million in grants that year.

Read more at Crain’s Detroit Business