Inspiration, Renewed Commitments at the Ambassador Awards

April 10, 2014
The Saint Paul Foundation's Carleen Rhodes with this year's Ambassador Awards honorees.

Minnesota Philanthropy Partners’ Carleen Rhodes with this year’s Ambassador Awards honorees.

On April 7, The Saint Paul Foundation held its annual Facing Race Ambassador Awards. The purpose of this event is to honor “…individuals working to build communities where everyone feels safe, valued and respected.”

This year, over 500 people came out to celebrate and honor this work. It was fantastic to see such a multi-generational crowd. Attendees included youth, elected officials, and those from the nonprofit, philanthropic, education, business, and government sectors.

Carleen Rhodes and Rowzat Shipchandler opened the event with an overview of Minnesota Philanthropy Partners’ renewed commitment to racial equity including the racial equity framework. This framework will promote racial equity through the various roles of the foundation: as community participants, economic entities, funders, employers, fundraisers, and leaders.

People were nominated from all across the state. This year, there were two Ambassador Award recipients, Jada Sherrie Mitchell and Justin Terrell, and three Honorable Mention recipients, Jennifer Godinez, Bukata Hayes and Dr. Cecilia Martinez. The Ambassador Award winners each received a $10,000 grant and the Honorable Mention winners each received a $1,000 grant that they may present to the nonprofit of their choice.

Award winning local photographer, Wing Young Huie, was the keynote speaker. He asked questions such as “How much does society shape ideas of who we are,” “Who gets to say who is a Minnesotan,” “When are we different and when are we the same,” and “Are we aware of our subconscious assumptions?” He demonstrated the power of the media across space and time, showing how some reactions to one photo were strongly influenced by images and assumptions from the Vietnam War many decades earlier.

It was a wonderful night of greeting old friends and meeting new ones, building the beloved community, and renewing personal commitments to advance this work.

- Jennifer Pennington, MCF member services fellow

MCF Welcomes New Member Foundation for Essential Needs

April 2, 2014

ffenPublic charity Foundation for Essential Needs (FFEN) is the latest grantmaker to become a member of MCF!

FFEN was founded what a belief that it is a fundamental responsibility of our society to ensure that basic human needs are met for each and every person. FFEN has a unique approach to fulfillment of these human needs by providing financial and professional service support to the organizations that deliver basic human services on a daily basis.

Services provided by FFEN include:

  • Service grants
  • Project specific monetary grants
  • Grant writing consultation
  • Emergency assistance grants
  • Training and education

Information about FFEN’s 2014 grant cycle will be available in June. Visit its website to learn more and stay up to date.


Reflecting on a Renewed Commitment to Racial Equity

March 18, 2014

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge the Racial Equity Framework

The Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Community Foundation, both MCF Members and affiliates of Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, hosted a breakfast earlier this month to announce their newly-developed racial equity framework.

A room full of guests listened as MN Partners CEO Carleen Rhodes and Amherst H. Wilder President May Kao Y. Hang shared findings from “Facing Race: A Renewed Commitment to Racial Equity.” The 30-page report serves as a call to action for leaders at both foundations, and stems from their longstanding commitment to fostering racial equity. The hope is that other foundations throughout Minnesota will use this as a tool in their own efforts to create a more equitable philanthropic sector.

In 2012 The Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Community Foundation commissioned a taskforce; they drove the process that identified five different roles the foundations held in the community. With leadership placed in the framework’s center, the roles now include: Community Participants, Economic Entities, Funders, Employers, and Fundraisers. The roles are based on a corresponding set of expectations that the task force recommends board and staff use as an accountability guide. Here’s a deeper look into what each role looks like:

·         Community Participants: As Minnesota becomes more racially diverse, foundations owe it to themselves to host convenings that encourage open dialogue; take the time to meaningfully build connections with communities of color; and learn the ways in which racism impacts the communities they serve.

·         Economic Entities: This role recognizes how racial justice and economic justice are linked. It challenges foundations to do more than just hire a racially diverse staff by encouraging mindfulness around choosing vendors and investment firms.

·         Funders: Setting guidelines, developing programs, and supporting affiliate grantmakers in their best practices around incorporating a racial equality lens will help foundations to better reflect the diverse communities they serve.

·         Employers: Taking a look at internal systems, foundations should ask themselves “Are we intentionally recruiting, hiring, retaining, and advancing employees of color?” “How are we creating a workplace culture that values everyone’s contributions?” “Do our stakeholders and communities know about our commitment to eliminating institutional racism?”

·         Fundraisers: Community foundations have a unique role as fundraisers. A commitment to racial equity not only plays a key role in nurturing relationships with current donors; but it also is instrumental in cultivating new relationships with a more racially diverse, culturally competent generation of donors.

What is most encouraging about this new framework is how it holds leadership accountable to walking an influential walk – and talking a correspondingly influential talk. As members of the local philanthropic community, we have to examine our privilege, realize how we are a part of current challenges, and get ready to step beyond what’s comfortable in order to advance. This will require courage, honesty, and openness. It will also require foundations to invite feedback and insight from diverse communities to really take root.

This should be a proud day for MCF, whose groundbreaking Diversity and Inclusion Action Kit helped shape Facing Race.

- Venessa Fuentes, MCF Philanthropy Fellow

Getting Minority Businesses Into the Stadium Game

March 4, 2014

4464678203_396bf92f19_nToday we welcome Teresa Morrow, vice president of external relations and marketing at The Minneapolis Foundation, to share how the foundation’s Working Capital Loan Fund, a $1.5 million Program Related Investment (PRI), is helping minority businesses get into the game of building the new Vikings stadium.

In late 2012, a Minnesota legislative appropriation and the investment of the Vikings football organization launched plans for a billion dollar sports facility in Minneapolis. Many supporters of the new stadium project heavily promoted the economic activity that would result from the construction of this new facility.

Access to Working Capital is Large Barrier
However, without intentional efforts to level the playing field in terms of access to financing, the stadium will not be the inclusive project that the Legislature envisioned. The goal of The Minneapolis Foundation’s Working Capital Loan Fund is to eliminate the single largest barrier to the inclusion of Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) contractors in this project: access to working capital.

Due to shorter business histories, narrower asset bases and limited access to conventional financing, the only sources of working capital for MBEs are expensive ones. Providing working capital at a more reasonable cost to these MBEs leverages the stadium’s benefit to the entire community by developing long term quality employers, new skills, and capacity—not only for the MBE but also for its employees.

The Working Capital Loan Fund
The Working Capital Loan Fund is a $1 million, 3-year Program Related Investment of The Minneapolis Foundation. The investment is a loan to Meda (Metropolitan Economic Development Association), which is an experienced Community Development Financial Institution. The fund takes a ‘reuse and recycle approach’ with 75% of the fund deployed at any given time. These funds are expected to revolve four times annually, providing up to $12 million in short-term loans to participating MBEs.

Enthusiastic Donor Response!
Donors to The Minneapolis Foundation were invited to participate in this PRI by investing a limited share of capital from their Donor Advised Funds, resulting in a loan pool of $500,000. The Minneapolis Foundation matched the Donor Advised Fund investments to create the $1 million PRI. The Foundation (and the Donor Advised Funds) will earn a modest annual return, and at the end of three years the principal will be returned by Meda.

The response on the part of donors was enthusiastic, with full funding provided in just a matter of weeks. While the support of donors has been gratifying, the interest by potential borrowers is equally satisfying. Small business owners are now receiving tools that will truly help them ‘get in the game!’

Related: For more on the topic, see Mission Investing Gaining Minnesota Momentum, a post by Wendy Wehr, MCF’s vice president of communications and information services.

Photo cc MoDOT

This post was updated with additional information from The Minneapolis Foundation clarifying its PRI.

President Obama Announces “My Brother’s Keeper” and Philanthropy Investment

February 28, 2014

obama9Boys and young men of color too often face disproportionate challenges and obstacles to success in our society.

Today in the U.S., if you are African-American, there’s a 50-50 chance that you’ll grow up without a father at home, and you’re more likely to be poor, to not read well, to be expelled from school and eventually to end up incarcerated.

And, as President Obama stressed yesterday, “The worst part is we’ve become numb to these statistics. We pretend this is a normal part of American life instead of the outrage that it is. These statistics should break our hearts and compel us to act.”

Act is what the President did Thursday as he signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing the “My Brother’s Keeper” Task Force, an interagency initiative to determine what public and private efforts are working for young men and boys of color and how to expand upon them.

The President has built a broad coalition of backers to help break down barriers, clear pathways to opportunity and reverse troubling trends that show too many boys and young men of color slipping through the cracks.

For yesterday’s announcement, he was joined by philanthropic leaders — including MCF President Trista Harris and David Nicholson, executive director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice — and representatives from communities, business, government and faith groups.

Foundations have already made extensive investments in support of boys and young men of color. Building on that, yesterday 10 foundations (including MCF members The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation) announced additional commitments of at least $200 million over the next five years to find and rapidly spread solutions that have the highest potential for positive impact in the lives of boys and young men of color.

Look for more next week on Trista Harris’ D.C. experience.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

Mission Investing Gaining Minnesota Momentum

February 12, 2014

mieEvery seat was filled at Northwest Area Foundation on Tuesday at a grantmaker “think tank” on mission investing.

What is mission investing? According to Mission Investors Exchange:

Mission investments cover two distinct categories: market-rate mission-related investments (MRIs) that have a positive social impact while contributing to the foundation’s long-term financial stability and growth; and program-related investments (PRIs) that are designed to achieve specific program objectives while earning a below-market rate return.

In other words, it’s about  using the so-called “other 95%” (beyond the 5% annual grants payout) to achieve mission.

According to MCF’s latest Giving in Minnesota report, Minnesota grantmakers grant approximately $1.7 billion annually and hold almost $18 billion in foundation assets. Through mission investing strategies they can leverage a portion of that $18 billion for social good. (For more on mission investing, also check out NCRP’s Winter 2013-2014 edition of Responsive Philanthropy.)

The Minnesota Experience
Prior to Tuesday’s event, some Minnesota grantmakers completed an informal survey about their experiences related to mission investing. Highlights of the responses included:

  • Program-related investments (PRIs) as loans are a commonly used tool and are often directed to economic development for low-income neighborhoods and job creation.
  • Growth of mission investing is hampered by lack of staff expertise and capacity, as well as a dearth of effective and experienced investment and legal advisors who understand and embrace the concept.
  • Finding investments with a strong financial and social return and measuring results can be challenging.
  • Despite challenges, foundations are intentionally pursuing mission investing and even setting targets for percentage of invested assets.
  • Community foundations have a growing interest  in mission investing among donor advisors.

Also discussed during the “think tank” were increased opportunities to engage in mission investing outside of the nonprofit sphere, such as with social enterprises and for-profit businesses.

For instance, philanthropy could seed investments in green technology or otherwise put dollars behind ideas that will influence the marketplace for good.

Learn More
Several intermediaries and other organizations are already working in the mission-investing space in Minnesota, including Nonprofits Assistance Fund, Community Reinvestment Fund, MEDA, WomenVenture and others.

At the meeting, Peter Berliner and his colleagues from Seattle-based Mission Investors Exchange also offered their knowledge, expertise and connections. To meet local and national peers, grantmakers can sign up for the Mission Investors Exchange 2014 National Conference to be held in Minneapolis from May 13 to 15. (Early bird registration ends February 28!)

To connect with other Minnesota grantmakers who are pursuing mission-investing strategies, contact MCF at

As event organizers Brad Brown, former head of Social Venture Partners Minnesota, and Susan Hammel, executive director of the Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, noted, mission investing is a lot less risky than perceived.  And a planned approach with full board engagement can really pay off – in social impact and financial rewards.

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

“Are You Even Reading This?”

January 27, 2014

lutheranToday on the blog we welcome MCF member Jenny Kramm, grants associate at the Lutheran Community Foundation. She shares with us steps that her foundation has taken to streamline the grant process, making much better use of the time of both the foundation and its grantees.

“I’ll admit,” a nonprofit leader sheepishly volunteered at a Minnesota Council on Foundations meeting, “In a funder’s grant report, I wrote, ‘Are you even reading this?’” Her question is one that the Lutheran Community Foundation (LCF) is working to address by employing Project Streamline principles to “right-size” grant due diligence, agreements and reporting. Our goal is to continuously improve our grant process, balancing the need for thoroughness with efficiency.

Beginning with due diligence, the LCF cross-checks every charitable grant recipient with the IRS’s Business Master Files and Publication 78. For grants of significant size, the LCF requests and analyzes the charity’s leadership and financials. Charities can submit their most recent audited financials, annual report, 990, or a detailed annual budget as they are, rather than using an LCF grant application. If something is unclear, we provide feedback that may help the charity with future proposals.

The LCF has also streamlined our grant agreement process. Rather than request charities to sign grant agreements, we accept the charity’s endorsement on the grant check as their consent to the terms of the grant.

Finally, we request that charities complete an LCF report on how they used the grant only if: 1) The information is needed to analyze the LCF’s performance; or 2) the information is needed to make a funding decision. The LCF retains the documentation from the due diligence process and requests an update only if there are material changes to the information already provided.

Project Streamline has given the LCF one more reason to celebrate its most significant grant-making year since its inception 18 years ago. In 2013, the LCF distributed more than 3,000 grants totaling nearly $12 million to charities throughout our local, national and global communities. Our efforts to improve our grantmaking processes have provided our charity partners a little extra time to do what they do best: spread joy and change lives.

A Good Food Future: The Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities Funders Network

January 8, 2014

healthyfoodToday on the blog we feature Pam Bishop, entrepreneur senior program officer, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. She presented at the 2013 MCF Philanthropy Convening about one of MCF’s member networks, the Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities Funders Network. She tells us more about it here.

At the November 2013 MCF Philanthropy convening, representatives from the Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities (HFHC) Funders Network introduced the network during an interactive breakout session. Here is some of what was covered:

Who We Are
The Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities Funders Network is a group of Minnesota-based funders who make informed, coordinated and strategic investments to improve key facets of our food system. Our shared commitment to the vitality and prosperity of our state’s communities and resilience of our landscapes inspire us to work together.

What We Do
This diverse group of funders:

  • Shares information about promising programs, organizations, issues and research.
  • Coordinates funding among members to ensure resources are well-distributed across organizations and initiatives focused on food systems.
  • Increases overall funding available for food systems-related work.
  • Convenes meetings for Minnesota’s funding community on relevant issues of interest around food systems and philanthropy.

Our joint agenda for learning and investment is based on the concept of collective impact. It emphasizes three strategic priorities:

  1. Facilitate Local Entrepreneurship across the food supply chain.
  2. Improve Access to Healthy Food to enhance wellness and health equity for all Minnesotans.
  3. Strengthen and sustain Farmland Access throughout the state.

For the next three years, these priorities will inform the content of HFHC-sponsored meetings for the broader funding community. They will also influence strategies to align and increase funding.

Each priority has a working group that meets regularly to plan network-wide learning opportunities and execute a successful strategy to coordinate and increase funding.

Get Involved
If you are a funder interested in these issues, here are some ways for you to get involved with the Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities Funders Network:

  • Join the HFHC listserv by contacting Tara Kumar, member services manager at MCF.
  • Attend the HFHC public meeting in early 2014. Watch for details — coming soon.
  • Join one of the HFHC working groups to collaborate with other funders on strategic alignment of funding on an issue you care about. Contact Tara if interested.

HFHC Funders Network has members from agencies, organizations and institutions that fund efforts to address social, environmental, economic and human health dimensions of food and agriculture in Minnesota.

For example: family, community and corporate foundations; state agencies, such as the Minnesota Department of Health; academic institutions, such as the University of Minnesota; health organizations, such as UCare and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota; and hunger relief groups such as United Way.

Photo cc NatalieMaynor


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