Meet Our Summer Communications Intern

June 24, 2015

pvangThanks to The BrandLab, a nonprofit that integrates students of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds into the marketing world, MCF has a communications intern this summer! Meet Paul Vang, who will be with us for the next seven weeks.

Paul graduated from Johnson Senior High School in Saint Paul, and still volunteers there for its wrestling team. He is currently a junior at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities pursuing a Communications major, with a minor in Leadership. Last summer he held a BrandLab internship with 3M.

While with MCF, Paul will help us with social media, email marketing, media relations, and website updates and improvements.

Glad to have you with us, Paul!


Fast Forward with PPL’s Paul Williams

June 19, 2015

ff1In MCF’s latest Fast Forward podcast, MCF President Trista Harris sits down for a wide-ranging talk with Paul Williams, president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living.

Topics they discuss include:

  • The importance of being rooted in community and using it as an asset.
  • The need for scale to make a meaningful impact.
  • Paul’s wish for philanthropy to create greater leverage with government.

Listen to the podcast now! And while you’re at it, be sure to check out other recent episodes like:

Subscribe to Fast Forward on iTunes or on the podcast player of your choice to always get the latest episodes as we publish them.


Preparing for Civic Disasters

May 1, 2015

blacklivesMCF has worked hard to help our members be future focused. There has been great work to help foundations proactively prepare for natural disasters, so that when that tornado or flood hits, the philanthropic community already has a plan to get the community back to normal and in some cases, even better than they were before the disaster.

What we haven’t done is civic disaster preparedness. What does a community do when the trust between officers of the law and the communities they are swore to protect is breached? What do we do when our schools are failing to prepare our next generation of leaders? What do we do when our community is divided into the haves and the have-nots and that line is clearly tied to race? What do we do when our freeways are stopped by people desperate to be heard on those challenges? What do we do when our media, our schools, and our places of commerce become the public square? What do when do when our communities go up in flames (figuratively and literally) because the earlier methods of communications have gone unheard for days, weeks, years, decades, and centuries?

I believe that we need to start answering this questions now. While tensions are simmering but not yet at the full boil that we are seeing in Baltimore and around the country. If this civic disaster was treated like a tornado, sirens would have been going off in our community for the last decade. What can we do today to prepare for it and prevent it? Who do we need to hear, what institutions need to change, and how do we, as Minnesotans, need be different? I think if we start asking these questions now, we could live in a much better community tomorrow.

I want to hear your ideas and actions to help prepare for civic disasters. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

– Trista Harris, MCF President



Quiet Leaders and Philanthropy: A Good Fit

February 5, 2015
Patrice Relerford

Patrice Relerford

Today we welcome Patrice Relerford, a new Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow who works at The Minneapolis Foundation and shares her thoughts on an evening with Dr. Albert Ruesga.

I recently had dinner with a group that included the CEO of one of the nation’s leading community foundations. Yet I had no idea he was the guest of honor until Trista Harris, MCF president, introduced him to everyone at the table.

I’m new to philanthropy and also didn’t recognize most of the foundation professionals in attendance. However, my reaction is noteworthy because I can usually spot the leader in any room. Here’s what gives them away: they’re usually talking and surrounded by people.

Dr. Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, wasn’t silent or shy, but he had a much calmer demeanor than I expected. Ruesga continued to defy my expectations when he spoke for a few minutes after Harris introduced him. He then asked each person in attendance to introduce themselves to the group and describe their intended legacy.

I felt anxious and relieved that I was several seats away from him. This is Minnesota. We talk about our families, sports, the weather and the roads as they relate to the weather. Also, who under the age of 60 has thought about their legacy? It sounds like something that involves paperwork, a notary public and a meeting with a lawyer.

I won’t give you a play by play of our conversation, but I will share that his behavior is an example of what psychologists have referred to as quiet leadership. Quiet leaders are more inclined toward action than talking. These men and women also take the time to assess a situation and map out the best way to proceed. I’m sure the fact that Ruesga seems inclined to think before he speaks has served him well since he moved to Louisiana in 2009.

Quiet leaders also listen and seek to empower others. They are not threatened or overbearing when their colleagues’ ideas clash with their perspectives. This issue has received quite a bit of attention recently as writers and thought leaders question our preference for extroverted leaders. I’m not certain how Ruesga would feel about being described as a “quiet leader,” and I didn’t consult him before I wrote this article.

I think he shifted the momentum back to us during dinner to learn more about where each of us was in our leadership journey. It was also a great transition into discussing the main topic for the evening: social justice philanthropy. I learned this term has several definitions. The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) describes it as supporting structural change to increase the opportunities of those who are the least well off politically, economically and socially.

As a new Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow, I’ve looked for examples of this type of work since meeting Ruesga and see parallels between the NCRP definition and philanthropic support for local organizations such as Voice for Racial Justice, which engages in racial equity organizing and leadership.

Below are three simple lessons I derived from our conversation and the concept of quiet leadership that I plan to apply to my own new career in philanthropy.

  1. Spend more time listening, learning and thinking than speaking. We live in a diverse community that faces complex challenges. No one person or entity has all of the answers.
  2. Don’t make assumptions or decisions about the needs of underserved communities or marginalized groups of people. Empower members of those groups and communities to lead the process for developing solutions which benefit them and address larger systemic issues.
  3. Strive for harmony – which isn’t the same as forcing others to agree with you – and move forward in a way that respects others’ viewpoints, yet changes inequitable systems. It’s a difficult path, but necessary to make a meaningful impact.

I’m not sure when I’ll have a response to Ruesga’s question about my intended legacy that is worth sharing publicly. However, I’m confident it will be the byproduct of these three actions.

Patrice Relerford, former Star Tribune education reporter and nonprofit fundraiser, recently joined The Minneapolis Foundation staff as a Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow


It’s All About Relationships

February 3, 2015
McKinley_Fellows_Dec_2014_by_Anna_Min_of_Min_Enterprises_Photography_LLC__19_of_28__small

Allison Johnson

Today we welcome Allison Johnson, one of our new Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellows, who works at Headwaters Foundation for Justice and shares her thoughts on the recent MCF annual meeting.

Many of us had the opportunity to hear Albert Ruesga, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, speak at the recent MCF annual meeting. Ruesga’s central message to Minnesota’s philanthropic leaders was that the work of philanthropy is all about relationships. As a community organizer and a new Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow at Headwaters Foundation for Justice, his theme was music to my ears. And sometimes it takes a foundation executive from Louisiana to come to Minnesota in January and tell it like it is.

Albert Ruesga

Albert Ruesga

His presentation showed that many foundations publicly state that they value relationships with peer organizations, their grantees and the communities their grantees serve. At the same time, relationships and the time it takes to foster and maintain them are not often prioritized. How could this be, I wondered, in a progressive-minded state like ours with a strong reputation of working together to achieve the common good?

Ruesga hypothesized that our “Minnesota nice” culture, and even our long winters spent in isolation, might get in the way of making progress together on difficult social issues. We spent time during the meeting offering ideas of why relationships aren’t prioritized: lack of time, leadership changes at the top, competition among foundations to take credit for the work, among others.

One suggestion from the crowd stuck out to me as the most troubling. Someone in the audience offered up the idea that we don’t know how to listen to our grantees, and when we do listen, they may say things we don’t want to hear. Ruesga writes in his “Twenty Five Theses About Foundations” blog post that the biggest challenge to authentic relationship building in philanthropy is that foundations generally do not know how to relate to people and communities they aim to serve.

That assertion stings, right? We’re doing such great work, and yet we have much farther to go. We have so much to learn and gain from building relationships, particularly with people outside the sector of philanthropy who rely on our work to make theirs possible. For example, collaboration among grantees leads to better understanding of mutual issues and trends.

This fall, Headwaters Foundation for Justice will host a summit of our grantees to highlight common themes in the work for racial, economic, environmental and social justice in Minnesota. Hearing directly from our grantees who are leading efforts to engage their  communities in systems-change work will help Headwaters live up to the value of “Do Nothing About Me Without Me” that is at the heart of our grantmaking.

I walked away from the MCF annual meeting challenged and energized to bring my own expertise in relationship-based community organizing to my foundation and to my new peers in this field. It’s my hope that all of us can think of one person, one grantee or one foundation with whom to connect with in the coming year to move the work forward in a relational and transformational way.

– Allison Johnson, 2015 Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow



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