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!


Grantmaking for Community Impact

May 7, 2014

promise1Last month, MCF hosted Christine Reeves from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Reeves gave an overview of philanthropic giving in the U.S. and shared her thoughts on where the sector should go from here.

Go Beyond “Grantmaker”

Reeves advocated for the term “philanthropic practitioner” rather than grantmaker. While the latter can be limiting, the former includes funder, partner, supporter, evaluator, advocate and champion — embodying more of what philanthropy can do to be effective. And she thinks it would be great if philanthropic organizations were so effective that “we put ourselves out of business.”

Reeves also discussed power dynamics between philanthropic organizations and grantees. For example, she said philanthropic practitioners should act as though their endowments are contingent on a positive review by their grantees, in much the same way that a grant is contingent on the positive review of a grantmaker. Grantees are evaluated by philanthropists, and sometimes philanthropy is evaluated by grantees. But even when it is, the outcome is never tied to dollars.

Use Targeted Universalism

Reeves then explained the concept of targeted universalism as an effective grantmaking strategy. Targeted universalism says if you target money to address needs and reduce disparities for the most marginalized, overall well-being (by many metrics) improves for everyone. Conversely, if a philanthropic organization tries to help everyone equally, they may unintentionally exacerbate existing disparities.

Fund Social Justice and General Operating Support

Reeves said, “In Minnesota, only 13% of philanthropic dollars go to social justice initiatives, yet this is an effective approach to solving long-term problems.” She asked: Would Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King, Jr. receive a grant today? Are philanthropic practitioners championing incrementalism or funding true movement? How do we create fertile ground for the next Gandhi, Chavez or King? Today 2% of U.S. foundations fund social justice.

Reeves also stands firmly behind general operating support, which she said means “letting go and trusting grantees.” Seven percent of U.S. foundations provide general operating grants today.

In Minnesota, the largest share of grant dollars goes to programs, but general operating support represented 30% of grant dollars in 2011, the latest year for which data are available. See Giving in Minnesota, 2013 Summary Report, page 7, for specifics.

Philanthropy’s Promise Explained

NCRP started Philanthropy’s Promise to change U.S. funding priorities, and more than 177 grantmakers have signed on to date. Philanthropy’s Promise celebrates foundations that intentionally target the bulk of their grant dollars to benefit underserved communities and invest substantially in advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement to address the root causes of social problems and promote equity, opportunity and justice.

What does Philanthropy’s Promise look like in practice? Grantmaking organizations that sign on commit to give 50% of their dollars to underserved communities and 25% to social justice organizations or movements. Because by applying targeted universalism, we all do better.

- Jennifer Pennington, MCF member services fellow


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.


Bush Foundation Launches Leadership Network Grants

April 24, 2014

Bush-AltLogo-ColorFor decades, the Bush Foundation has worked on leadership development in Minnesota and the surrounding region. Earlier this week, it announced a new grant program with that focus.

The new Leadership Network Grant program supports organizations working to inspire, equip and connect leaders to effectively lead change. Grants of up to $200,000 will support efforts that:

  • Inspire and equip people to successfully lead in their communities
  • Connect people of different backgrounds and perspectives across geographies, sectors, ideological divides or cultural communities

Bush Foundation is particularly interested in proposals that build the cultural agility of leaders or expand leadership development opportunities for communities underrepresented in leadership positions in our region.

It is accepting applications now through June 12, 2014. Access the application and learn more about the grants on the foundation’s website.



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


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


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