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

Cargill Foundation Helping North Minneapolis’ Harvest Schools Scale Up

February 6, 2014
Eric Mahmoud, founder and president of the Harvest Network of Schools

Eric Mahmoud, founder and president of the Harvest Network of Schools

On Wednesday, the Cargill Foundation announced a $1.5 million, three-year grant to the Harvest Network of Schools to help close the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color in North Minneapolis.

The schools have a long history in North Minneapolis. Started by Ella Mahmoud in her home in 1985 for 10 children, today the schools educate 1,200 children in six programs and are led by Ella’s husband, Eric Mahmoud, president and CEO, Harvest Network of Schools.

Harvest Schools to Scale Up
The grant from the Cargill Foundation will help the Harvest network of charter schools scale up to meet its goal of having 3,500 students in Harvest classrooms by 2021. The number is significant. North Minneapolis has a total of 6,800 students in grades K-8, so the Harvest Network will be educating 51% of North Minneapolis’ students when it hits 3,500 students.

Scott Portnoy, Cargill corporate vice president and president of the Cargill Foundation

Scott Portnoy, Cargill corporate vice president and president of the Cargill Foundation

Scott Portnoy, president of the Cargill Foundation, explained that Cargill is a major and long-time funder of education in the metro area. He continued, “These schools have been very successful at closing the achievement gap. They are in the top 10 of the State of Minnesota’s ‘Beating the Odds‘ schools, and they are leaders in educating boys of color.”

Minneapolis Public Schools Partners with Harvest Schools
Dr. Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, doesn’t disagree. At Wednesday’s event she supported the Harvest Network of Schools, saying, “I want great schools for Minneapolis, irrespective if they are district or charter schools.” And she added that it wasn’t a particularly tough decision. “It was easier for me to decide to partner with Harvest Prep than to close the Minneapolis Public Schools for the recent cold weather.”

This is likely because the Harvest Schools set and enforce high standards. The schools’ website stresses rigorous academics and says, “No Gaps Here!”

Best of the Best
Eric Mahmoud reiterated that, saying, “We don’t want to be the best of the worst. We want to be among the best of the best.”

The schools are succeeding. He shared a slide that showed the math gap between white and black students in St. Paul Schools at 44% and in Wayzata Schools at 41%. The same chart showed African American boys at the Harvest Schools achieving at the same levels as white students in Edina and other high-performing school systems.

Darryl Cobb from the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF), a nonprofit that invests philanthropic capital in the nation’s highest performing charter schools, also spoke at the event. He explained that the Harvest Network is currently undergoing the CSGF’s rigorous application process with hopes of being considered for CSGF investment.

Philanthropists who want to learn more about the Harvest schools should contact Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, chief officer of strategic alliances, Harvest Network of Schools, or watch the Minnesota Futures Award Video on the school’s home page.

- Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

Young or Old, Mentoring Matters

January 28, 2014

mentoringworks_logoSometimes a little moral support can make all the difference.

January is National Mentoring Month. And evidence shows that mentoring is definitely worth celebrating and promoting.

No matter your age or your goals, support from others can help you overcome barriers to success, navigate unfamiliar cultures, and reach new heights.

Many examples of mentoring’s power have popped up in my reading this month. They’ve run the gamut – from reduction in juvenile crime for at-risk youth in national mentoring programs, to greater interest and confidence among mentored girls and young women pursuing STEM studies and careers, to patients having greater success controlling their diabetes when paired with a peer mentor than when taking medication.

Career Growth in Philanthropy
Of course, social support is important at work, too. Local peer networks are popular resources for MCF members. And national networks and affinity groups are valuable repositories of information for professional development and job effectiveness.

MCF has even launched its own version of a mentoring program. Four inaugural MCF Philanthropy Fellows have joined the Bush Foundation to grow professionally and infuse new ideas and energy into the sector.  Read about the MCF Philanthropy Fellows in our Philanthropy Potluck Blog post, and while you’re at it, check out our announcement about EPIP’s new Leadership Institute.

Mentoring in Minnesota
While Minnesota grantmakers are building their own skills, they’re also providing financial support to local, national and global mentoring programs. Not surprisingly, 86 percent of our state’s grant dollars dedicated to mentoring benefit children and youth, according to MCF’s latest Giving in Minnesota research.

Leading Minnesota funders for youth development mentoring include: Federated Insurance Foundation; Greater Twin Cities United Way; Carlson Family Foundation; Cargill Foundation and Cargill, Inc.; and Otto Bremer Foundation. The McKnight Foundation has also been a major youth development grantmaker and was instrumental in founding Youthprise.

According to MCF research, leading nonprofit recipients of private, community/public and corporate grants include: Big Brothers/Big Sisters in St. Paul and throughout the state; Mentoring Partnership of Minnesota (MPM); Bolder Options and BestPrep.

Last year MPM honored the Carlson Family Foundation with the Bob Dayton Quality Mentoring Award as a leading investor and champion for high-quality youth mentoring – long-term, trusting relationships between children and caring adults.

According to MPM:

Mentoring is an active ingredient in helping young people perform better in school, develop aspirations to go to college and choose a career, make responsible decisions, model good behavior, and become more productive and engaged citizens – all key factors in building stronger communities.

Join the Conversation
Check out the National Mentoring Month resources and let us know what resonates with you. What positive outcomes have you experienced as a mentee or mentor? What mentoring programs do you know of that are achieving exceptional results for individuals of varying ages?

- Wendy Wehr, MCF v.p. of communications and information services

Education Grantmaking Rises with a Boost from Margaret A. Cargill Foundation

December 23, 2013

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 2.55.04 PMIn October, MCF released Giving in Minnesota, 2013 Edition, the latest comprehensive analysis of the trends in giving by organized philanthropy in the Minnesota. Each month, I will write a blog entry that delves more deeply into the full report. This month is Education grantmaking.

Giving in Minnesota, 2013 Edition, reports on grantmaking data from 2011, the latest year for which complete data are available. The information here is based on the coding of a sample of over 27,000 grants of $2,000 or more made by 100 of the largest grantmakers in the state.


Education saw strong growth in 2011 compared to 2010, surpassing the previous high set in 2007 prior to the Great Recession. Total Education giving from Minnesota grantmakers totaled $325.7 million, an increase of 23% compared to 2010. The growth in Education grantmaking was larger than the overall grantmaking increase of 15%. Education ranks first of eight subject areas, accounting for 28% of the grant dollars coded.


Margaret A. Cargill Foundation’s giving greatly affected Education grantmaking in 2011. Sixteen percent of all 2011 education grant dollars came from this foundation. Overall giving by this foundation increased significantly in 2011 due to the foundation paying out multi-year commitments to a large number of nonprofits. Without giving from Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, education giving would have grown by 4 percent.


As in previous years, Elementary/Secondary Education received the largest share of grant dollars compared to the other Education subcategories. Higher Education & Professional Schools saw increased funding due to the increased giving of the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. Target Foundation and Corporation school library makeovers contributed to the increase in giving to Libraries/Library Science. Student Services & Organizations of Students includes scholarships and student support groups, such as college readiness organizations and reading/literacy programs.


Corporate grantmakers continue to provide the largest share of Education grant dollars. Many corporate grantmakers focus on Education, including through programs like Take Charge of Education at Target Foundation and Corporation and Box Tops for Education at General Mills Foundation and Corporation. You can see the impact of Margaret A. Cargill Foundation’s increased giving in the increase in giving to Education by private foundations from 2010 to 2011.

Look for future posts digging into giving trends by grantmaker type, with Corporate Grantmakers up next.

- Anne Graham, MCF research 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.

Does a Strong Arts Balance Sheet = Artistic Freedom?

December 10, 2013
balanceIn 2008, Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA), Technical Development Corporation (TDC) and Nonprofit Finance Fund began leading discussion and research around capitalization and arts organizations. In 2012, MCF hosted a one-day workshop on the topic, and on Dec. 3, 2013, MCF presented a follow-up to fifty staff members of arts grantmakers and arts organizations alike at the McKnight Foundation. Here’s a recap.

Kate Barr, executive director of Nonprofits Assistance Fund, facilitated a mix of presentation and discussion to help participants gain a common understanding of the capitalization of arts organizations. Barr recapped the 2012 workshop by providing definitions of different types of capital, the role and purpose of each and how each fits into an organization’s business model.

All organizations need operating revenue and working capital. Most organizations need mission-appropriate fixed assets, operating reserves and risk/change capital. And some organizations need building and building reserves and endowments.

Healthy capital versus weak capital
Healthy capital should evolve with an organization’s current needs, while weak capital is universally destabilizing to an organization. Barr walked the group through reading a balance sheet. She provided clear tools and formulas to help understand if an organization has healthy capital or not. These included the Unrestricted Net Assets Tool (Instructions on the Unrestricted Net Assets Tool here) and the Days of Cash on Hand Tool.

Barr advocated for strategic plans that include a 4 to 5 year capitalization plan. This would include clearly assessing and understanding the starting point and determining the needs and potential sources. It is critical that boards are provided with education, so they can read and understand balance sheets and other financial documents.

Capitalization obstacles
The top six obstacles to capitalization are:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Planning
  3. Best practices
  4. Leadership
  5. Financial standards
  6. Access to capital

How can funders advance financial health?
Cindy Gehrig, president, Jerome Foundation, and Vickie Benson, arts program director, The McKnight Foundation, shared their thoughts on what funders can do to advance financial health and strong capitalization. Key points included:

  • Funders are learners too, just like nonprofits, and it is important to learn together
  • The importance of understanding the story behind the numbers
  • The grantmaking sector is and will continue to move away from penalizing nonprofits for having operating reserves

Weak capitalization results in arts organizations that are risk-adverse and play it safe. Strong capitalization makes an organization healthier and more willing to take creative risks.

“A stronger balance sheet means more artistic freedom,” said Ben Cameron of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

- Jennifer Pennington, MCF member services fellow

Photo cc Philippe Put

A Deeper Look at Minnesota Grantmaking Trends

December 4, 2013

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 2.55.04 PMIn October, MCF released Giving in Minnesota, 2013 Edition, the latest comprehensive analysis of the trends in giving by organized philanthropy in the Minnesota. Each month, I’ll be posting here to delve more deeply into the full report. This month is Grantmaking by Subject Area.

Giving in Minnesota, 2013 Edition, reports on grantmaking data from 2011, the latest year for which complete data are available. It is based on the coding of a sample of over 27,000 grants of $2,000 or more made by 100 of the largest grantmakers in the state.

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 2.34.30 PM

As in previous years, Education leads, capturing 28% of the grant dollars coded. Except in three years – 2001, 2005, and 2008 – this has been the case since MCF began this research. Human Services followed with 21% of the grant dollars, and Public Affairs/Society Benefit was third with 17%.

Human Services includes grants for housing, youth development, disaster preparedness and relief, food and nutrition, employment, and human services areas. The Public Affairs/Society Benefit subject area covers grants to nonprofits involved in general civic, community and societal improvement projects, as well as philanthropy/volunteerism including community foundations and federated funds like United Ways.

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 2.35.36 PM

Over time, the share of grant dollars each subject area receives has remained fairly stable. Human Services led the giving by subject area in those three years that Education came in second. Each of those years was marked by crisis – 9/11, post-tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, and the Great Recession – where grantmakers stepped up to support people in need.

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 2.36.12 PM

There are some long-term differences in giving by subject area by Minnesota grantmakers compared to national foundation trends. The most significant one is the relative difference in shares of grant dollars to Health and Human Services. Minnesota grantmakers give a larger share to Human Services (21%) than the national trend (14%), and a smaller share to Health (10% vs. 28%). One of the reasons for this is that the major funders of Health are not located in Minnesota.

Care should be taken when making comparisons between national and Minnesota grantmaking trends. The data are different in several ways, including: different baseline sampling (MCF codes grants of $2,000 or more while the national sample is made of grants of $10,000 or more), inclusion or exclusion of corporate giving programs, and coverage of slightly different time frames.

Look for future posts digging into several of these subject areas, with Education up first.

-Anne Graham, MCF research associate


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