Getting Networked by Nature

January 13, 2014

nbnWhen it comes to a tool like social media, it’s important to think beyond official messages sent out from an organization’s account.

The real power comes when people, including staff and board members who care about an organization, are empowered to spread the word as individuals. After all, social media is social, and people value interactions with other people above those with brands.

That was the message shared by Cary Walski, technology education and outreach coordinator at MAP for Nonprofits, at a technology breakout at the 2013 MCF Philanthropy Convening. Walski used statistics from the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities (where I also happen to be a board member) to make her point.

Traffic on the group’s website nearly tripled in one year, and event attendance increased 45 percent in the same time period. So how did they do it?

  1. YNPN-TC used social media as one part of a cohesive online communications strategy that also included a robust website and timely email marketing.
  2. YNPN-TC adopted a positive social media culture.

First Steps
In order for an organization to embrace a positive social media culture, several things must happen first.

  • Recognize that staff and board are always representing the organization; trust them to do it well on social media, as they do elsewhere.
  • Agree to a policy of 100 percent participation on social media, and include it in staff job descriptions.
  • Provide ongoing social media education
  • Write social media policies that are “Yes and,” instead of “No, no.”

Grantmakers Must Move Beyond Concern
Walski noted that grantmakers in particular may be hesitant to adopt a policy of complete availability on social media, fearing that it could lead to an increase of poorly-fitting grant proposals. However, she made the case that it’s time to move beyond concern and embrace openness. Here’s why:

  • Social media is a great way to promote and support the work of grantees.
  • It provides additional avenues for community members to reach out to foundation staff.
  • It may illuminate new opportunities for a foundation to meet mission and serve community.
  • It gives program staff new ways to learn about issues they care about.
  • It increases staff visibility, so they are increasingly looked to as thought leaders.

How does an organization transition to a positive social media culture? Here’s the roadmap Walski laid out:

  • Survey and Align: Determine who your internal staff and board enthusiasts are, and identify or hire a social media champion.
  • Build: Ensure your organization’s practices and policies encourage social media. Have your social media champions inspire and educate staff at informal gatherings such as brown bag lunches.
  • Evaluate: Demonstrate the value to leadership and board members by using metrics like those in Google Analytics. Share screenshots of particularly poignant social media “mission moments.”
  • Innovate: Stay on top of changing technology and help your organization find that next connection that will lead to improved service.

Through it all, don’t forget: people value interactions with other people above those with brands.

For further inspiration on jumpstarting your organization’s positive social media culture, check out Idealware’s The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide and Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services by Idealware and MAP for Nonprofits.

- Chris Oien, MCF digital communications specialist

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

Engaging “New” Philanthropists

January 2, 2014

Presenters (clockwise from top left) Kelly Drummer, Noelle Ito, Nareman Taha, Bo Thao-Urabe

Members of communities of color must look to their own communities to find new models of giving that will work there.

That was the overriding message at the “Everyone’s a Philanthropist” session at the 2013 MCF Philanthropy Convening, featuring presenters:

Each is a member of a community with a long tradition of giving coupled with growing assets – defined as skills, community knowledge and finances. Community members also have an increasing awareness of the lack of philanthropic investment in their communities and want to be part of solutions that create greater good. Here’s how they answered a few questions.

Tell us about your “cultures of giving.”

Bo Thao-Urabe: In Asian communities, your personal well-being is judged by the well-being of your family.

Noelle Ito: Don’t assume that donors from our communities are all young and financially strapped; it’s not true. For many of our donors, it’s about more than writing a check. People want to get their hands dirty and learn about issues in their communities. And, just because I’m Asian American, don’t assume I know about all Asian American issues.

Nareman Taha: It’s very much about one-on-one relationships. I recommend that people go into a community, learn about how its members look at donating and see if they can build on that tradition.

We started by doing focus groups in a number of communities and found that Arab Americans were charitable, but they gave as individuals. Many didn’t understand organized philanthropy. Now, as a community foundation, our giving is more visible. We say, “Look we’re an Arab-American organization that is supporting the community.”

Kelly Drummer: Reciprocity is very important in the Native American culture. The structure of the Tiwahe Foundation – giving from individuals to individuals – grew out of that culture.

We want to be around for a long time, so we knew we had to build our endowment. We are now asking for donations of $1,000 –and spread over five years, that’s just $17 a month.

What’s the best way to engage with new communities and populations?

Thao-Urabe: It’s about relationships. Get to know a community and how they support each other. Work with the community to determine what kind of investment it needs to build its future. Get community members to see themselves as donors. Many of them already give, but they do it without recognition.

Determine how community members can combine their traditional values with the tools of American philanthropy.

Taha: Build relationships with existing religious and social service organizations that are already working in the community. Associating your work with theirs can increase your credibility.

Drummer: It’s about getting people to realize that giving in small amounts matters. You don’t need to have a lot of money to give. I say, “If you think you can’t give $120, how about if you give $10 each month for a year?”

How do your organizations work with foundations?

Ito: Foundations serve as fiscal agents for our giving circles, so they process our checks. Many of our giving circles also have a 50 percent foundation match.

Taha: W.K. Kellogg Foundation and others have lent us their expertise, their research and their support. They have been extremely helpful.

Drummer: The Minneapolis Foundation has provided a home for our endowment. We partner with Blandin Foundation and Bush Foundation on leadership development programs.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

Education Can’t Minimize Relationships

December 19, 2013
David O'Fallon

David O’Fallon

Today on the blog we welcome David O’Fallon president of Minnesota Humanities Center. He shares his perspective on what we need for real education reform, a topic he presented on at MCF’s 2013 Philanthropy Convening.

At the Minnesota Humanities Center (MHC), we are developing a strategy to transform education founded on a simple premise: Underlying the achievement gap is a relationship gap.

An authentic person-to-person relationship is the foundation of learning, and it depends on real human engagement between teacher and student. In school, the stronger and more authentic the relationship, the greater the likelihood that a student will learn. A wealth of research supports this.

Relationships are possible and strengthened only when essential stories of the many people and cultures represented in the classroom, school and community are present. These stories – currently unrepresented —  are called absent narratives.

Person-to-Person Problem
Top-down reform and large-scale system-improvement efforts overlook or minimize the all-important relationship. This is a person-to-person problem. Thus, change brought about by technical or structural fixes – curriculum alterations, schedule modifications, high-stakes testing or the introduction of iPads – will be incomplete and have unsatisfactory results.

Since A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform was written in 1983, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to transform education. Results have been disappointing. Obviously, the challenges are complex; no single intervention will transform education.

Reorient School Culture
Our strategy is founded on including and articulating the absent narrative and focused on relationships among people in the human school community and between members of the communities that engage, or would like to engage, with people in the school.

The absent narratives approach reorients school culture. It invites community members to examine how they engage with each other and, most critically, how teachers engage with students. All members of the school community are involved in the discovery and articulation of the missing narratives, which provides a new sense of agency and purpose.

Key Elements

1. Reclaim the absent narrative: When the story of a group of people is marginalized or completely left out of school curriculum, it is an absent narrative. This absence ignores some (or most) of the young people in today’s schools, especially youth of color. Use of a dominant narrative limits and even damages the teacher-child relationship.

2. Create the innocent classroom: This strategy calls on us to see anew the power and the essential nature of the teacher-to-child relationship. It asserts that every child is innocent — desiring and acting toward his or her own goodness. Too often, the innocence of children (especially that of children of color) is obscured by the burden of unexamined and unspoken beliefs.

3. Reconstruct curriculum: This strategy engages teachers in examining current curriculum with an absent narrative lens. The effects are powerful, and new content and teaching approaches develop as a result.

4. Build community narratives: Schools occupy a specific place in a community. Place matters, but it is often ignored. In this strategy, the community is invited to consider place and contribute their own narratives. Stories emerge as content that enlivens the school as a human community and engages young people and adults in new ways.

These elements combine to form a powerful and effective professional development and systems-change approach that is currently being used by 60 teachers in St. Paul and in an urban district outside Minnesota.

Tune in to American Public Media’s “A Lot to Give”

December 12, 2013

marketIf you listen to the radio, I hope you’ve heard “A Lot to Give: A Philanthropy Series” on American Public Media’s Marketplace this week.

APM summarizes the series this way: “an inside look at the rarefied air of big donors and philanthropy from the Wealth and Poverty Desk.” I’ve certainly found it to be more accessible and interesting than that description makes it sound!

By following the links (below), you can quickly read or listen to the completed pieces, which are 2 to 7 minutes in length.

Since Sunday, the series has covered the following topics. After each link, I’ve listed one thing I learned or had confirmed by the piece.

The roots – and some results – of the charitable tax deduction: To pay for WWI, in 1917 Congress was in the process of hiking the top income tax rate from 15 to 77%.

Hard truths
The realities – and pitfalls – of giving away money: Family foundations are only as healthy as the family is.

Why a foundation?
Charitable foundations aren’t just for the uber rich: 65% of all U.S. foundations are under a million dollars.


Beyond charity
Philanthropy’s edge: innovation and a long time horizon: Philanthropy is responsible for the painted lines that outline our roads.

Who Gives?
And, for fun, take the “Who Gives?” quiz about your giving and see if your causes are similar to Oprah, Bill Gates or Bono.

The series continues through the end of the week. To listen to new pieces, tune your radio to MPR news.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

The Future Started Yesterday

December 6, 2013

MCF President Trista Harris at the 2013 Philanthropy Convening

Earlier this week, we showed you the TED talk “Abundance is Our Future” that we watched at the 2013 MCF Philanthropy Convening.

MCF President Trista Harris used this as a springboard into her closing talk, saying she sees small groups of people doing extraordinary things in the nonprofit sector all the time. But, she lamented, “The social sector uses old data, which makes it tough to see the future.” One example: U.S. census data, which is currently nine years old.

Her mission, she said, is to turn the boat around, so we can all see the future. “Many great ideas are right on the horizon, but we won’t see them if we don’t know what we’re looking for.”

Here are three positive trends Harris is seeing now.

Better, Cheaper, Faster Technology

“Technology is getting better, cheaper and faster on a very predictable schedule,” Harris said. “This allows us to do things today that we couldn’t think of doing 10 years ago.”

Diversity of Youth

Our youngest residents are much more diverse than our oldest, and we must use this diversity as an asset and not let it tear our state apart.

“We can’t forget that Minnesota is successful when we rely on each other. And ‘each other’ looks different than it used to,” said Harris.


“Nonprofiteers” are young people in our community who are exposed to nonprofit and philanthropy work early in their lives and see it as a career path.

She cited 2013’s We Day as a great example. On We Day, 18,000 students from 400 schools across Minnesota were entertained and engaged in the greater good. Attendees earned entry by committing to take action on at least one local and one global initiative during the next year.

“We may not see the next generation doing good,” said Harris. “Because it looks different than how we do good.”

21st Century Foundation Leadership

Harris shared a glimpse of where MCF is headed, saying the work will revolve around 21st century foundation leadership and getting people ready to learn together.

Areas that will be important include: diversity, equity and inclusion; the leadership pipeline; public policy; cross-sector partnerships; effective grantmaking practice and principles; and anticipating future trends.

Join the conversation: What are other important trends you see in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors?

The Future is Abundant

December 2, 2013

Grantmakers listening in at the MCF Philanthropy Convening

MCF President Trista Harris has long wanted to use the tools of futurists right now in the social sector. With that in mind, she presented “The Future Started Yesterday: So Now What?” at MCF’s 2013 Philanthropy Convening.

She opened with a viewing of a 2012 TED talk by Peter Diamandis, M.D., chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation. California-based XPRIZE Foundation’s mission is: Bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity, and it offers large cash incentive prizes to inventors who can solve grand challenges

Diamandis’ talk, “Abundance is Our Future,” was based on his book, “Abundance – The Future is Better Than You Think” co-written with Steven Kotler. His TED talk opened with a barrage of news clips, and he explained that in our 24/7 world, we are bombarded with way too much information. Unable to absorb it all, and being human with a goal of survival, we are wired to sort the information and raise the bad news to the top.

“The media feeds us negative stories because that’s what we pay attention to,” he said. “It’s no wonder people are pessimistic and think the world is getting worse.”

“But perhaps the world isn’t getting worse,” Diamandis continued. “Perhaps in the next few decades, we have the capacity to create abundance.”

He defined abundance as creating a life of possibility, rather than a life of luxury. “It’s about taking that which was scarce and making it abundant,” he clarified. “Scarcity is contextual and technology is a resource-liberating force.”

Watch the full TED talk below, and stay tuned for a future blog post to read what Trista Harris thinks it means for the future of philanthropy!

Laura Bloomberg on Addressing Grand Challenges #MCFengage

November 15, 2013

laura_bloomberg_fnl_small“What do we have in abundance?”

That was the question Laura Bloomberg, associate dean and faculty member at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, asked of us to kick off the MCF Philanthropy Convening’s Friday plenary. We all must give more of ourselves if we hope tackle what Bloomberg calls grand challenges.

Screen shot 2013-11-15 at 11.11.32 AM

Just what are grand challenges?

  • They have significant consequences for the well-being of those involved.
  • They are novel, emergent, and highly complex.
  • They don’t lend themselves to simple or technical solutions.
  • Single-sector actions to address them often come with unintended consequences

And Bloomgberg’s working assumptions about them:

  • Cross-boundary leadership is a necessity to address them.
  • Leadership may be needed most where conflicting world views and beliefs intersect.
  • These leadership skills can be modeled and taught.
  • Building collective strategies have greater impact than working only with those in positions of formal authority.

Screen shot 2013-11-15 at 11.11.57 AM

Bloomberg closed with five collective strategies we need to be truly effective when addressing them:

  1. Anticipate and leverage windows of opportunity.
  2. Recognize the difference between a paradox and a problem. Problems can be solved, paradoxes are interdependent, ongoing, and must be balanced.
  3. Host (really host) dialogue, debate and deliberations.
  4. Design inclusive decision making processes.
  5. Create an expectation of continuous improvement.

There wasn’t enough time in the hour Bloomberg had (or in this blog post!) to delve deeply into these strategies, but Bloomberg cautioned us to really breathe in and consider them, instead of simply repeating them as bite-sized tidbits to our bosses. For example, ask yourself: what would it look like if we all came to work with an expectation of continuous improvement, with a mindset of constant learning?

Watch this video Bloomberg played for us to learn more about how to handle grand challenges (a term she greatly prefers to the “wicked problems” framing seen here):

Keep following #MCFengage on Twitter for live updates through the end of today, and stay tuned for future blog posts and reflections on what we’ve learned during the convening!


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