Doing Good in the 21st Century

October 2, 2013

doinggood1How must the social sector adapt to succeed in meeting 21st century challenges and opportunities?

Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) has been asking young sector leaders across the country to comment on trends in the field, and to surface examples of individuals and organizations proving their ability to succeed. From those conversations, it just released a report and series of videos entitled Doing Good in the 21st Century.

Here’s one of those videos, with young leaders weighing in on philanthropy’s role in doing good. It features our president Trista Harris, Arcelia Hurtado of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, EPIP Executive Director Rahsaan Harris and several others. Among the points it raises:

  • Philanthropy has the opportunity to be the research and development for our society. “If many of our grants aren’t failures, it means we’re not really pushing the envelope hard enough on the issues that are important.”
  • Get comfortable with uncertainty and with the non-linear nature of social change.
  • Be willing to innovate to get money to where it needs to be. “There are different ways to move money that are all legal, that may or may not include getting a charitable deduction.”

Visit EPIP’s website to download the report and watch more videos with emerging leaders, and use the hashtag #DoGood to join the Twitter conversation.

Join the conversation: What do you think philanthropy’s role in our country should be in the years to come?


Trista Harris Underway as MCF President

August 5, 2013

trista1MCF is pleased to have aboard Trista Harris, who began her new role as our president last week.

Harris is known nationally as a passionate advocate for new leaders in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. She was most recently executive director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice in Minneapolis, and she is chair of the national board of advisors of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP).

Harris’ prior professional experience includes service as program officer at The Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Community Foundation (now Minnesota Philanthropy Partners), as development director at Portico Healthnet, a nonprofit providing health coverage and education to uninsured Minnesotans, and in various research and management positions at other nonprofit organizations.

An accomplished author and speaker, Harris writes about generational changes in philanthropy on her blog, New Voices of Philanthropy. She has been featured on CNN and her work has been covered by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the New York Times, the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal and numerous social sector blogs.

Welcome, Trista!



Fundamentals and Accelerators of Corporate Citizenship

June 28, 2013

No doubt about it, Minnesota is a leader in corporate philanthropy.

Across our business community — from our 19 Fortune 500 companies (more per capita than in all but one other state) to countless others of every size — is a wide-held belief that community engagement is essential to the vitality of our region.

But effective corporate citizenship — like any aspect of a business enterprise — requires discipline. According to Tom Knowlton and Nadia Gomes of TCC Group, successful citizenship requires: organization-wide strategy, integration throughout the organizational structure, engaged leadership, and a culture that values community engagement.

Knowlton and Gomes shared their latest thinking on this topic at a recent gathering of MCF’s corporate members. (Our members are constantly engaged in learning — that’s one of MCF’s Principles for Grantmakers.)

TCC Group’s model links integration and strategy together as fundamentals. Without this base, smart execution and meaningful impact are difficult. Engaged leadership and culture are the accelerators. Senior-level support and engagement of all stakeholders gives the credibility and oomph that leads to success.

Balancing fundamentals and accelerators is key. At the MCF session, Medtronic Foundation’s Ginny Cassidy shared her company’s evolving “Corporate Citizenship 2.0″ initiative. See the 2012 Corporate Citizenship Report (PDF) for a description of the company’s strategic pillars: global leadership in addressing chronic disease, collaborative culture of innovation, responsibility in the marketplace, total employee engagement and progressive environmental stewardship.

You can also read more about Knowlton’s and Gomes’ work in their recent posts on the CSRwire blog.

And in a few weeks we’ll release the summer issue of Giving Forum, which will include lots more examples of effective corporate citizenship in Minnesota. Visit our website to sign up for this useful publication.

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


Taking Little Bets on the Path to Innovation

June 17, 2013

DaretoFailHeaderLast week, I had the chance to attend the Annual Forum of the Charities Review Council. Along with hundreds of other attendees, I was updated on the work CRC is doing to create a transparent and accountable nonprofit sector, see MCF members Youthprise and Otto Bremer Foundation honored with Community Leadership Awards, and hear from keynote speaker Peter Sims on taking risks and encouraging innovation.

Sims’s talk was based on his book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. He walked us through examples of how companies like Pixar and celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld got where they are by taking low-risk actions and learning from their failures. Then he engaged us in a discussion of how the nonprofit sector can do the same.

What Can We Afford to Lose?
Sims offered this contrast on the proper mindset for experimentation, and it continues to stick with me a week later.

A manager asks “what can we gain?” from a proposed new course of action, while an entrepreneur asks “what can we afford to lose?”.

Great ideas can produce big results, but they may not be fully realized until many years later, with the immediate benefit seemingly less impressive. That plus the very real possibility that an idea won’t work at all makes it easy to nay-say them.

On the other hand, if you appreciate that your organization can easily afford to have multiple small experiments fail, and that you don’t know which one could go on to be something big, you’ll be much more receptive the next time a new idea comes along.

Bring a Culture of “Little Bets” to Your Organization
Sims and the audience offered a couple of ways that individuals can start to bring a culture of little bets to their organizations.

Budget 5-10% of your time (a few hours a week) to dreaming up and implementing small experiments in your work, and see what happens. When you try something new and it doesn’t work out, don’t shy away from bringing it up at a performance review or staff meeting. Instead, celebrate the effort and share what you learned and what you would do differently next time.

Something for Funders
Another theme of the audience Q&A was that nonprofits will embrace more innovation when they are well capitalized enough to believe they can afford to have an experiment fail. We think that’s something for grantmakers to consider as they decide how to fund the causes they care about.

Join the conversation: Let us know what little bets you’ve taken recently and, successful or not, what you’ve learned from them!

-Chris Oien, MCF web communications associate


MCF Names Trista Harris as New President

June 13, 2013

trista1The Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF) announced today the appointment of Trista Harris as the association’s next president.

Harris is known nationally as a passionate advocate for new leaders in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. She has most recently served as executive director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice in Minneapolis, and she is chair of the national board of advisors of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP).

“The MCF board is convinced that Trista Harris is the right leader at the right time,” says Kevin Walker, chair of MCF’s board of directors, and president and CEO of Northwest Area Foundation. “Our members’ communities, our state, and the world are changing fast. Trista’s passion for unlocking philanthropy’s potential is a great fit for the challenges we face.”

Harris’ prior professional experience includes service as program officer at The Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Community Foundation (now Minnesota Philanthropy Partners), as development director at Portico Healthnet, a nonprofit providing health coverage and education to uninsured Minnesotans, and in various research and management positions at other nonprofit organizations.

An accomplished author and speaker, Harris writes about generational changes in philanthropy on her blog, New Voices of Philanthropy. She has been featured on CNN and her work has been covered by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the New York Times, the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal and numerous social sector blogs.

Recognized for promoting best practices in grantmaking that build capacity of nonprofits while creating measurable social change in the community, Harris is excited to join MCF, one of the leading regional philanthropic associations in the country. “I look forward to this opportunity to lead MCF and its members to the next level of effectiveness in the community,” she says.

Harris will succeed Bill King, who is retiring this summer after 25 years of service to MCF. “During his tenure, and particularly during his 12 years as president, Bill has created a remarkable legacy,” notes Walker. “He leaves behind a strong, vibrant association.”

MCF’s current strategic focus on public policy engagement and building equity meshes well with Harris’ professional vision and educational experience. She earned her master’s of public policy degree from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, and her bachelor of arts from Howard University, Washington, DC. She also completed the Public Policy and International Affairs Program at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.

Harris will officially join the organization on July 29, 2013. The search for Bill King’s successor was conducted by a search committee of the MCF board, led by board and executive committee member Nancy Nelson. Nelson is a board member of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation and is vice president, chief actuary of the company.


Member Post: Decentralizing Organizational Communications

June 5, 2013

lizzy-headshot1-150x150Today on the blog we hear from Lizzy Shramko, communications and development associate at MCF member Youthprise. Lizzy presented at an MCF event in May, and shares with us here what she talked about at the event and learned from the conversation. Thanks Lizzy!

I recently presented at an MCF gathering of foundation communication professionals, titled “Everyone’s Job: Organizational Communications.” The presentation I gave was themed around decentralizing this work by incorporating it throughout all levels of a foundation. This is something that many communications professionals struggle with on a daily basis — I know I do.

Some of the key challenges that arise when communications is isolated from other parts of an organization are:

  • The disconnect between “the work” and the communicating being done around it
  • The exclusion of diverse voices on staff in order to maintain a unified organizational voice
  • Because other staff members are not a part of the communications work, communications are often used as a tactic in response to a problem that arises, not a strategy to shape the organizational direction

Youthprise is in a unique position to address these challenges. As an organization that boasts a deep bench of leadership, our goal is to uplift the voices of our staff members and incorporate their strategic vision into the direction of our communications plan. Some of the ways that Youthprise addresses the above challenges are:

  • Encouraging staff members to submit op-eds and articles, and offering editorial support to grow their writing skills
  • Offering social media support and dedicated time to help staff members participate in our social media communications. This offers additional space for all staff to interact with grantees and community members
  • Including time at staff meetings to solicit staff input around the communications strategies in place

At this MCF gathering, many people offered their insights and the unique solutions that their foundations employed to address this problem. Across the board, staff time was a concern: questions arose around how to balance time management and staff input. Social media was also a major topic of discussion. Spaces like Facebook and Twitter present unique solutions – and challenges – to decentralizing communications. If staff members are asked to create individual accounts, how can we provide support to help them balance their professional and personal voices? Are these social media sites relevant to the communities we serve?

Ultimately, it was a great space to hear from other folks working in communications about the innovative work they are doing to support communities across Minnesota. It was also a space to think more deeply about how we can communicate more effectively not just with other professionals, but with the communities we aim to serve.



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