Nexus Community Partners Opens BCLI Applications

May 14, 2014
BCLI '14 alumni

BCLI ’14 alumni

This week, MCF member Nexus Community Partners announced it has opened applications for its Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI), a seven month leadership program that supports, trains and places people of color and other underrepresented community members on publicly appointed boards and commissions that influence and impact equity in the Twin Cities.

Benefits to BCLI fellows include:

  • Joining a network of racial equity and social justice advocates influencing policy decisions on local and regional commissions.
  • Gaining integrated perspectives on key local and regional racial equity and social justice issues: economic development, health equity, affordable housing, transit, and workforce development.
  • Participating in a facilitated learning community of trainers, advocate commissioners and elected officials who share best practices, lessons learned, and key concepts.
  • Learning commission skills like Parliamentary Procedure, media messaging, and municipal budgeting.

Nominations are due July 18. Several information sessions about the program are available May 29 through June 19. More information and the nomination packet are available on the Nexus Community Partners website.

Good luck to those being nominated!


The “Secret Sauce” Behind McKnight’s Impact Investing Decision

May 1, 2014

Wolford_Kate_13Today on the blog we welcome Kate Wolford, president of The McKnight Foundation. McKnight’s board recently voted unanimously to develop an impact investing program. Here Kate explains the process behind the foundation’s decision to mobilize the “other 95%.” 

This March, McKnight announced its commitment to invest an initial $200 million, roughly 10% of current endowment assets, across four strands of impact investing. On the heels of a relatively quiet year of board and staff learning and program design, we have plunged into the vortex of an incredibly dynamic field of activity. I’ve been inundated with inquiries from prospective fund managers, invitations to a dozen seminars, and lots of related research.

Although the field is growing, impact investing is still finding its footing among foundations nationally. In a spirit of shared learning, I offer a few thoughts on how McKnight got to this point.

McKnight’s History
McKnight isn’t new to this arena. The Foundation made its first Program-Related Investments in the 1980s. Different from a grant, a PRI functions as a low-cost loan, provided at below-market rates to strengthen the recipient’s mission-focused work.

About five years ago, McKnight rebooted our PRI program — which by then had fallen somewhat dormant — and we’ve now invested about $21 million in PRIs aligned with goals in our Region & Communities and Mississippi River programs. (That’s in addition to grants totaling about $28 million last year across those programs.) Also, McKnight employs eight investment firms, representing over $1.3 billion of our portfolio, who are signatories of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment.

It’s Path to Today
A combination of factors led McKnight’s board of directors to embark on a systematic learning and program design agenda around impact investing in 2013, including:

  • A family foundation to the core, McKnight’s very active board still includes direct descendants of the founders. Fourth-generation family members are keen to align more endowment dollars with program goals, mobilizing our “other 95%” beyond grant dollars. (Federal tax laws require private foundations to distribute just 5% of net investment assets annually for charitable and administrative purposes.)
  • In 2012, McKnight adopted a Strategic Framework focused on strengthening our adaptive leadership and credible influence, and signaling impact investing as an emerging interest.
  • Among McKnight’s staff and some grantees, interest has been growing to explore more direct market-oriented levers for change, alongside our longstanding policy work.
  • Given the Foundation’s major program commitment to accelerate the Midwest’s transition to a low-carbon economy, as well as growing global efforts to shift incentives and investments away from fossil fuels, timing seemed right for us to explore related tools and opportunities.

Foundation-wide Engagement
Recognizing value in foundation-wide engagement, the board established a work group comprising our board chair, two directors who serve on McKnight’s Investment Committee, one director who does not serve on the Investment Committee, and several staffers representing key administrative, program and finance functions. During a year of intensive exploration, we learned about opportunities and challenges across asset classes, about the current field of impact investing, and about field enhancements philanthropy might be able to help incent or create. We explored a variety of ways to structure and staff a program.

And we sought out the informed wisdom of philanthropic colleagues; for example, former W.K. Kellogg Foundation president Sterling Speirn spoke with our full board about Kellogg’s experience in mission-driven investing.

Although the work group was most actively involved, its members updated our board at each quarterly meeting, and the board focused its annual retreat around the topic. One huge retreat outcome was unanimous board approval to develop an impact investing program composed of four stands with initial allocations of $50 million each — Mission-Related Investments (Public Markets), Mission-Related Investments (Private Markets), Mission-Driven Investments, and Program-Related Investments.

Conversations, Vigorous Debate, Thoughtful Implementation
These decisions were a long time coming and the result of deep learning and exhaustive conversations among our board and staff. Ultimately, I believe those conversations will emerge as our “secret sauce” — vigorous debate, and an inherent commitment to thoughtful implementation.

Although our process may at times feel like a constant churn of learning and refinement, we’ll do well to embrace this disruptive push and pull as precisely what it feels like to be adaptive leaders in emergent space.

Visit McKnight’s blog for a more detailed look at its process.


What Can You Learn from PFund’s Community-led Grantmaking?

April 29, 2014

pfund1aWith a belief that community members can best determine where funding will have the greatest positive impact, PFund Foundation (an MCF member) has long been committed to community-led grantmaking. In its last round of grantmaking and guided by a strategic direction of increased regional participation, PFund involved community more than ever. A summary of changes PFund made follows.

And, for a more detailed look at how you can incorporate PFund’s learning into your next grants round, check the spring issue of Giving Forum (online and in your mailbox now).

5 Changes:

  1. Expand the table. Historically PFund has engaged community leaders based in the Twin Cities. In its last grants round, it added leaders from Greater Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin, and it plans to recruit from Iowa and South Dakota.
  2. Connect community leaders. In addition to reviewing written grant proposals, during its last grant round, community leaders held 24 site visits – in person and virtual. This connected leaders in new ways.
  3. Build shared knowledge. To enrich everyone’s understanding of LGBT communities in the Upper Midwest, PFund is convening community leaders.
  4. Foster mutual commitment. PFund is moving from recruiting volunteers annually to inviting community members to serve 3-year terms on its grant committee.
  5. Create a playbook. The foundation’s guidelines, approaches, policies and more are now documented in a resource that will be used and updated by the grants committee annually.

Did PFund do something that your organization could build on to increase your level of interaction with and commitment to the communities you serve?

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate


The Path to Effective Philanthropy: Honest Conversations

February 27, 2014

It was a treat this week for MCF and our members to host a conversation with Phil Buchanan, president of the The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP).

Our exchange was energetic, provocative, fun and sometimes funny.  I was struck by how often we circled back to core concepts and philanthropic fundamentals.

The discussion aligned serendipitously with MCF’s Principles for Grantmakers.  Here are a few snippets that illustrate the challenges — and opportunities — of putting principles into practice.

Effective Governance
According to MCF’s Effective Governance Principle, grantmakers are expected to be good stewards of assets, to fulfill donor intent, to make sound decisions and to perform all fiduciary responsibilities.

Buchanan called for foundation boards to govern effectively by not rubber stamping staff members’ grant recommendations.  “If the board is approving every grant, they’re not taking time to see what it all adds up to and they’re not asking the hard questions.”

And he challenged foundation CEOs to practice “radical openness” with their boards – i.e., to say everything they’re thinking and to spark “messy conversations.”  Good governance doesn’t emerge from perfectly scripted board meetings at which “the most spontaneous thing that happens is when someone gets up to get a cup of coffee.”  (Yes, it’s okay to laugh at ourselves.)

Engaged Learning
The MCF Engaged Learning Principle calls for continuous learning and reflection by engaging board members, staff, grantees and donors in thoughtful dialogue and education.

Of course, learning and continuous improvement through performance assessment is at the heart of CEP’s mission.  (Buchanan readily acknowledged that he is not the expert in philanthropy . . . and he cautioned us to be wary of those who say they are.)

Because philanthropy is “wicked tough,” funding programs on theory alone is not enough.  It’s vital that grantmakers establish performance indicators and are data driven.

And they sometimes need to follow, not lead.  By replicating proven programs, foundations can learn from others and succeed.  (For more on shared goals, read Buchanan’s opinion piece in this week’s Chronicle of Philanthropy.)

Transparency
Through MCF’s Transparency Principle grantmakers strive to build healthy relationships with the public, applicants, grantees and donors by using clear, consistent and timely communications.

Being transparent includes sharing the so-called “failures.” (Our host Kate Wolford of The McKnight Foundation noted that we might be more apt to learn from our missteps by reframing them in more positive, multi-dimensional terms.)

Buchanan reported that it’s up to foundations to share the results of CEP assessments.  Some don’t share at all, some partially share with grantees (and sometimes add a positive spin!), and some share widely, warts and all.

He noted that foundations that are truly transparent are viewed as trustworthy and credible.  For example, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is fully committed to evaluation and transparency, making it all the stronger.

Cynics may say that foundations don’t need to be accountable to anybody.  But as Buchanan reminded everyone, if grantmakers aren’t honest and don’t cultivate positive relationships with their grantees, how can they obtain the candid information they need to improve philanthropy . . . and improve lives?

More to Come
Keep watching our Philanthropy Potluck Blog for future postings about philanthropic effectiveness, including video conversations with MCF President Trista Harris, Buchanan and other big thinkers.

Like our grantmaker members, MCF is committed to hosting robust conversations within and across sectors . . . because leadership for the 21st century requires honest, provocative discussion.

– Wendy Wehr, MCF vice president of communications and information services


MCF Elects New Board Officers, Directors

January 16, 2014
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Cupid the penguin greeted guests at MCF’s Annual Meeting at Como Zoo

The Minnesota Council on Foundations elected new board officers and directors at its annual meeting on January 15.

Officers elected for 2014 are:

  • Kevin Walker, president and CEO, Northwest Area Foundation, board chair;
  • Kari Suzuki, director of operations, Otto Bremer Foundation, vice chair;
  • Mark Hiemenz, partner relations officer, Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, secretary; and
  • Brad Kruse, program director, Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, treasurer.

New directors elected to three-year terms ending in 2016 are:

  • Susan Bass Roberts, director of community relations, Best Buy Foundation;
  • Kim Borton, director of programs, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota;
  • Chris Fulton, executive director, Grand Rapids Community Foundation;
  • Jim Garness, senior foundation representative, Xcel Energy Foundation;
  • Daniel Lemm, trustee, Tiwahe Foundation; and
  • Mary Jane Melendez, associate director, General Mills Foundation.
Bass_roberts_susan_12_small
Susan Bass
Roberts
Borton_kim_13_small
Kim Borton
 
Fulton_chris_13_small
Chris Fulton
 
Garness_james_13_small
Jim Garness
Lemm_daniel_13_small
Phillip Lemm
Melendez_mary_jane_13_small
Mary Jane Melendez

Elected to a second three-year term ending in 2016 was Kim Embretson, vice president of fund development, West Central Initiative.

Congratulations to all!


Dearth of Data About Philanthropy’s Diversity

May 22, 2013

sow13_th2The D5 coalition, on a mission to advance philanthropy’s diversity, equity and inclusion, just released the State of the Work 2013 report, which examines the diversity in today’s philanthropic sector.

D5 defines diversity as those who bring a unique perspective or life experience to the decision-making table, but focusing particularly on:

  • Racial and ethnic groups: Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas, African-Americans and other blacks, and American Indians and Alaska Natives
  • LGBT populations
  • People with disabilities
  • Women

Foundation Data Before Grantee Data
According to the D5 report, while a growing number of foundations are asking grantees for data on diversity, equity and inclusion, very few foundations are tracking that same data in their own organizations. As a result, sector-wide data aren’t available to answer the question of how much diversity exists in philanthropy today.

D5 is calling for greater transparency – from foundations that already have diversity data and from a greater number of foundations overall  to collect and report on their diversity.

I support the goal of sector-wide data collection and transparency on diversity. I believe that data will better inform our planning and implementation of work toward greater inclusion.

Do You See Diversity When You Look Around?
I also believe that, if we use our eyes, we can surmise how much diversity exists in philanthropy, data or no data.  For example, if we were to attend board meetings or CEO convenings of foundations in our region, we could see how much diversity exists at the decision-making levels in philanthropy.  From there, we can work to understand how that diversity — or lack thereof — influences foundation priorities and grantmaking.

James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  I believe this to be true in philanthropy, too.  We would do well to assess first our own organizations for diversity, equity and inclusion.

If we take this initial step of raising our organizational self-awareness, we will not only begin to gather the data we need to measure the sector’s movement toward greater inclusion.  We will also have a starting place from which to endeavor to meet the goal of a more inclusive philanthropic sector.

– Lissa Jones, MCF director of diversity, equity and inclusion


MCF Elects New Board Members, Officers

January 17, 2013
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Board Chair Kevin Walker at MCF’s annual meeting.

MCF elected new board officers and directors at its annual meeting on January 15.

Officers elected for 2013 are:

  • Kevin Walker, president and CEO of Northwest Area Foundation, board chair;
  • Carolyn Roby, vice president, Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota, vice chair;
  • Kari Suzuki, director of operations, Otto Bremer Foundation, secretary; and
  • Brad Kruse, program director, Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, treasurer.

New directors elected to three-year terms ending in 2015 are:

  • Kathleen Annette, president and CEO, Blandin Foundation;
  • JoAnn Birkholz, foundation manager, Medica Foundation;
  • Mike Newman, VP and director of community relations, Travelers Foundation; and
  • June Noronha, senior manager, Bush Foundation.

In addition, at MCF’s last board meeting in 2012, Susan Bass Roberts, community relations director, Best Buy, was elected to fill a one-year vacancy in the class of 2013.

Directors elected to second three-year terms ending in 2015 are:

  • Julie Hara, executive director, Marbrook Foundation;
  • Steve Joul, president, Central Minnesota Community Foundation;
  • Tim Ober, president, Mardag Foundation.

Welcome to our new board members and officers as they gear up to help lead MCF forward in 2013 and beyond!

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate


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