A Minnesota Innovative and Engaged Philanthropist Earns Award

June 8, 2011

“John Larsen has made significant contributions in advancing the issue of equity across Minnesota,” says Carleen Rhodes, president and CEO of Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation.

“John’s strategic, multi-faceted and outcome-oriented approach to philanthropy exemplifies the work of an engaged philanthropist,” adds Brad Brown, executive director of Social Venture Partners Minnesota (SVP).

For his work, John Larsen will receive the 2011 Engaged Philanthropist Award, a joint effort of Minnesota Community Foundation and SVP Minnesota that recognizes the most innovative and effective engaged philanthropists. The award, launched in 2010 with the late Winston Wallin receiving the inaugural recognition, will be presented at SVP Minnesota’s annual Engaged Philanthropy Conference on June 16, 2011, in Minneapolis.

Larsen is an original funder and a visionary behind Project 515, an organization with a mission to ensure that same sex couples and their families have equal rights and considerations under Minnesota law.  Project 515 has approached the issue of full equality for same sex couples through multiple avenues, including business outreach, education, research, advocacy and media.

Larsen serves as trustee and administrator of the John Larsen Foundation, a member of the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF). The foundation is a private grantmaking organization with a mission to better the lives of individuals and families, both traditional and non-traditional.  Program priorities derive from the active, passionate involvement of family board members in their own communities. Primary areas of focus are arts and humanities, community enhancement, education, environment, human rights and human services.

Larsen was a six-year member of MCF’s board of directors, is a current member of the strategic planning committee, and a leader of MCF’s LGBT Funders network. Larsen also serves on the board of directors for Project 515 and has volunteered with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, Headwaters Foundation for Justice and Together Minnesota. Earlier this year, Larsen was recognized with PFund Foundation’s First Annual Power of Philanthropy Award.

- Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate


Minnesota Foundations Provide Relief for Tornado Victims

May 25, 2011

Hundreds of north Minneapolis residents have been left without permanent housing after Sunday’s deadly tornado. Minnesota grantmakers are mobilizing to collect funds and coordinate services to support those affected.

Here’s a sample of how MCF members have helped thus far:

  • The Minneapolis Foundation, The United Way Twin Cities and other funding partners have set up a North Minneapolis Fund to match public giving up to $200,000 at giveMN.org. Read the complete news release.
  • General Mills Foundation has committed $75,000 to support immediate response efforts in Missouri and Minnesota. Read more.
  • Target Corporation has donated $50,000 in monetary support and product to the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. Read more.
  • Mosaic has donated $25,000 for tornado relief efforts. Read more.
Watch this page on MCF’s website for:
  • Updates on aid as it is provided and how you can donate,
  • Volunteer opportunities and where your help is needed,
  • Assistance available to residents and small businesses in the affected areas.
Photo CC Scottie B. Tuska

Why Are Our Children Doing Better? Nancy Award Nominations Due March 25

March 8, 2011

When you think of who has helped improve the well-being of our children, does someone or some organization some to mind? Have they exemplified unwavering dedication and outstanding contributions through program innovation, policy, advocacy or mentorship?

Created in 2007, the Nancy Award shines the spotlight on outstanding contributions by individuals or groups to enhance life for young children and honors the spirit and legacy of Nancy Latimer, whose leadership, passion and commitment to children are exemplified by award recipients.

The fifth annual award will be presented June 29 by the Minnesota Early Childhood Funders Network, an MCF network, at the Annual Nancy Latimer Convening for Children and Youth.

Nominations should include the following, not to exceed two pages:

  • For individuals: A brief biographical and professional overview, noting the nominee’s significant activities and accomplishments on behalf of children in Minnesota.
  • For groups: A brief overview of the significant activities and accomplishments of the group on behalf of children in Minnesota.
  • Overviews may be bulleted lists or narratives.
  • The name and contact information of the nominator, as well as a brief statement of the connection between the nominator and nominee.
  • The names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers of two individuals who can provide additional information about the nominee, if needed.
  • Contact information, including title, e-mail address and phone number, for the nominee.

E-mail nominations by March 25 to: Vicki Itzkowitz, Minnesota Early Childhood Funders Network coordinator, vitzkowitz@aol.com

Prior Nancy Award recipients are:

2010   Arthur J. Rolnick, senior vice president and director of research, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; and Jane Kretzmann, senior program officer, Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation.

2009   Dr. Glenace Edwall, director, Children’s Mental Health Division, Minnesota Department of Human Services, and chair, Minnesota Child Psychologists; and Zoe Nicholie, early childhood systems specialist and director of the Build Initiative and public policy work at Ready 4 K.

2008    Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, Ph.D., founding director, University of Minnesota Children, Youth & Family Consortium, and director, Irving B. Harris Programs, Center for Early Education and Development.

2007     Early Childhood Caucus, Minnesota State Legislature, accepted by Rep. Nora Slawik and Sen. Claire A. Robling.

About Nancy Latimer

As a longtime senior program officer at The McKnight Foundation, a leader of the Minnesota Early Childhood Funders Network, and a lifelong advocate for children, Latimer made many contributions to the healthy development of young children, the prevention of child abuse, and the creation of public and policy support to improve the lives of Minnesota’s children and families.

About the Early Childhood Funders Network

The Minnesota Early Childhood Funders Network provides information to network members and policymakers, monitors how changing public policy affects early childhood issues and organizations, and works to strengthen the voice for early childhood within Minnesota philanthropy.

- Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate


Who Are “Those People” on the Wrong End of Health Disparities in the Twin Cities?

October 27, 2010

I have always been captivated by some people’s ability to use only a handful of words to illustrate very complicated concepts and perspectives. Maybe 15 years ago or so, I was deeply moved by the title of a photography exhibit in the Twin Cities – “Those People.” The exhibit sought to put a human, personal, real face on people often discounted or invisible in the eyes of mainstream Minnesota.

Over the years, as I’ve gone about my life brushing up against the stronger, thicker, higher walls that seem to be arising between the many and varied sub-communities of our state, I’ve often thought about the title of that exhibit.

“Those People” again came to mind when I attended the presentation Oct. 7 of key findings of The Unequal Distribution of Health in the Twin Cities, a research project commissioned by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation and conducted by Wilder Research.

The graphs and charts revealed statistics about health disparities that could lead one to think that we can define a group of “those people” who live in certain zip codes, are of a certain racial background, have a certain educational attainment or earn a certain income as those who are suffering the most in the Twin Cities.

After the research was presented, a panel of community leaders responded. The panel was part of a group of seven sector leaders who authored response papers to the research report. While each had a unique and insightful perspective, the common thread was the notion that we all have a stake in the inequalities that face “those people” and, by working collaboratively, we can diminish the disparities and erase the notion that there is a “those people.” As Paul Wellstone once said, “We all do better when we all do better.”

Dane Smith, president of Growth and Justice, was one of the panelists and authored a response. He writes, “Not just the poor and racial minorities benefit from greater economic security and reduced inequality. Research shows that mortality and longevity rates are superior for all income levels in the more equal states.”

Fifty percent of a person’s health is driven by health behaviors and health care (tobacco use, diet and exercise, access to quality care, etc.), and 50 percent is driven by social, economic and physical environment factors, according to the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute; it is this second 50 percent that was the focus of the Wilder research. In other words, the Wilder report says, “More than half of a person’s health is driven by income, education, race and neighborhood.”

In its companion piece to the research report, Revealing Socioeconomic Factors That Influence Your Health, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation summarizes the statistics:

  • Each additional $10,000 in an area’s median household income is associated with a full year gain in life expectancy.
  • Life expectancy is nearly five years less for those with the lowest levels of education, compared to those with a high degree of post-secondary education attainment.
  • Life expectancy in the Twin Cities swings widely from 83 years for Asians to 61.5 years for American Indians.
  • Children born into the highest income areas live eight years longer than those born into the poorest communities.

The foundation also issues a call to action: “The Twin Cities and Minnesota are poised to be leaders in closing the health equity gap. Together, we can change the pathway that has led to health disparities. We will all be healthier when we focus on improving the social factors that play a powerful role in determining health.”

This view that fellow citizens are not “those people” who need help, but partners in this quest – a part of “us,” will go a long way in helping frame long-lasting, impactful solutions. “Those people” is a dangerous way to view our communities, and I’m thankful that it’s not reflected in this research and the subsequent work planned by numerous community organizations and foundations to solve the health inequalities brought to light.

Access the full research report on the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation website. Also available are the foundation’s companion piece and the response papers.

- Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

FYI, Current plans are for Twin Cities Public Television to air a program focusing on the Oct. 7 presentation in January on its Minnesota Channel. Look for the program listing in November/December on the TPT website. In the near future, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation website will also provide video excerpts of the panel presentation, as well as links to the TPT program.


Is $2,200 a Big Deal? Help Low-Income Minnesotans “Claim It!”

September 9, 2010

Did you know that 18 percent of eligible low-income individuals don’t claim tax credits that would help them pay for basic needs?

Not only does this mean less food on the table for individuals and families who need it the most, it also means millions lost to local economies where these people live and spend their money. Last year alone, individuals claiming earned-income tax credit (EITC) and working families credit (WFC) resulted in more than $341 million dollars returned to the Twin Cities economy.

If you work or volunteer with low-income individuals, you are encouraged to attend this year’s Claim It! program, organized and sponsored by the Greater Twin Cities United Way and its community and national partners. At Claim It! You’ll hear from experts on the impact of programs such as EITC and WFC, who’s eligible and not claiming, and tax credits that can help these individuals become financially stable.

You can help increase claims and drive more money into the economy.

The program is Thursday, Sept. 30 from 8 to 10 a.m., at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. The program is free, but registration is required. Please register by Sept. 18. Continental breakfast will be provided. For further information and to register, visit the program registration page.


S’Mores and iPhone Apps: Family Philanthropy Conversations

August 17, 2010

Some of our best family discussions happen around the camp fire. In between licking s’mores off our fingers, we share school experiences, summer wishes, and funny stories.

The next time you're around the campfire, why not talk about family giving?

Last weekend, we brought out our TableTopics cube of conversation starters and enjoyed the summer air while listening to each other answer questions such as  “Would you rather meet your great grandparents or your great grandchildren?” “What is your family known for?” and “Is it more fun to be a parent or a child?”

When I came back to work on Monday and dove into creating content for our fall issue of Giving Forum, which will focus on family philanthropy, I thought of a few of my own family philanthropy conversation starters I could pull out next time we’re sitting around the campfire:

  • If you had $1,000 dollars (which sounds like all the money in the world to a young child), and you could use it to change someone’s life, what would you do with it?
  • Do you think it’s better to give the entire $1,000 to one person and make a really big difference or give $100 to 10 people and make less of a difference but affect more people?
  • What is one problem now that you hope doesn’t exist in 10 years? 50 years?
  • If you could make a movie about how to make the world a better place, what would your movie be like?
  • When you do something really great, how important is it that others know what you did?
  • If you could invent something that would make the world a better place, what would you invent?

West Central Initiative, an MCF member, brings the thought-provoking discussion from the camp fire to the kitchen table in its recent issue of FOCUS on the Region, a quarterly publication. Here’s an excerpt of Sheri Holm’s article:

Kitchen table philanthropy involving the whole family

The next time your family comes together for a day at the lake or a barbeque in the backyard, why not take an hour to discuss  how your family can make an impact on the things that are most meaningful to all of you.

Some questions to pose to your ‘kitchen table philanthropists”:

1. First, let your family know that including charitable giving in your estate does not mean leaving out the children, grandchildren and other family members. Including charities in your planning can actually enhance what your loved ones will inherit. Because your family is important to you, their input into how those charitable dollars are spent and what organizations they will support is also important to you.

2.Encourage your family to talk about the charitable organizations they currently support. Ask each about the most satisfying charitable gift that they have made. Other questions could include:

  • Do you see your family as a family who “gives back”? How do you feel about that?
  • Are local issues and organizations more important to your family than national or international organizations?
  • Are there projects or organizations you would like the family’s name linked with?
  • What would the family like to see accomplished through charitable giving?

Including your loved ones in these discussions can provide multiple benefits. It gives them a role in your decision making. They will understand what you want to do and how you want to do it. It should also ensure that there will be no surprises for the family at the time your estate is settled.

If you’d like your conversation spurred on by techie gadgets, guess what? There’s an iPhone app that might just be up your alley. My colleague here at MCF, Cary Walski, found Picture Your Legacy, which guides you toward articulating what you’d like your legacy to be – in business, philanthropy or life – by selecting and sorting images that reflect what you want to accomplish in the world. “What does a dancer leaping across the stage, a redwood tree or a lighthouse beacon say about the funder you aspire to be?” reads the promotional text on the app’s website.

Once you go through the app’s exercises, you can email them to yourself and other family members for further reflection and discussion. So, if sitting around a campfire or the kitchen table together isn’t in the cards, now you can still share your philanthropy philosophy by way of the virtual kitchen table.

Join the conversation: What questions could you ask your kids to find out how they see themselves changing the world? What questions might help guide them to think philanthropically? Have you tried any kind of conversation starters to spark discussion about your family’s philanthropy? How will iPhone apps and other tech devices influence how families discuss their philanthropy and make decisions in lieu of sitting around the camp fire or the kitchen table?

- Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

Image CC quinn.anya

Are Your Ready for a “New Conversation” About Race?

August 12, 2010

Are you interested in learning more about the various facets of racism in our culture and gain skills to help you navigate the often difficult conversations about race?  Perhaps you’re looking for a workshop that will assist you in raising awareness of the issue of racism for your organization.

Whatever the reason, now is the time to register for The Saint Paul Foundation’s New Conversations dialogues.

Thanks to a generous grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (an MCF member), the Facing Race Initiative, a project of The Saint Paul Foundation (an MCF member), is offering two upcoming New Conversations dialogues free of charge in the West Metro area.

New Conversations About Racism and Racism
September 20, 2010, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Brookdale Library, Brooklyn Center, Minn.
Cost: Free, registration required

At this workshop explore different real-life scenarios and engage in small group discussion about your thoughts and reactions. Through introspection participants will explore personal perspectives on race and racism.

New Conversations About White Privilege
September 28, 2010 from 10 a.m.  to Noon
Division of Indian Work, Minneapolis, Minn.
Cost: Free, registration required

Using the New Conversations White Privilege tool as a framework, examine what it means to be white in America. This two-hour dialogue introduces the concept of systemic thinking and uses both small and large group activities to process information in a meaningful way.

Registration information is available on the Facing Race Events Calendar. You can learn more about the New Conversations series, as well as the Facing Race Initiative, at facingrace.org.

Image CC B.S. Wise


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