Blue Cross Foundation Offers $1 Million to Fund Health Equity

February 11, 2015

bluecross-blueshield-logoMCF member Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation has released a request for proposals for up to a total of $1 million to further health equity in communities across Minnesota. The new grants program, “Healthy Communities: Health Equity in Action,” offers grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 per year, and applicants can apply for one- or two-year grants.

“The overall goal is to help people reach their full health potential,” said executive director Carolyn Link. “We believe community nonprofits are in the best position to understand and apply what’s already working in communities to make them healthier.”

The Foundation’s mission is to make a healthy difference in communities by advancing health equity and improving conditions where people live, learn, work and play. The Foundation seeks to fund community solutions that help create the following:

  • Equitable systems — Systems and resources are equitable and easily navigated. Community members are positioned and supported to fully participate in community life.
  • Stable lives — Children, families and individuals are engaged and supported so they can achieve stable, thriving lives and secure healthy futures.
  • Social connections — Community members have increased connectedness, confidence, self-efficacy and opportunity to bring about change.
  • Vibrant communities — Community institutions and infrastructures are strong, and health considerations are at the forefront of community decision making. Equity assessments are routine practice and core organizations recognize their role in advancing health equity.

Optional workshops will be held in Mankato, St. Paul, Bemidji and Duluth for potential applicants to learn more about the funding opportunity and to talk with foundation staff about project ideas, and a webinar also will be held on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 9:30 a.m. Registration is required for the workshops but not the webinar.

See the detailed RFP on the Foundation’s website. Proposals are due by 4 p.m. on April 20.


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


Meet MCF’s New Board Officers and Directors

January 27, 2015

40085dc0-3f12-4268-95d1-d514dddec371The Minnesota Council on Foundations elected new board officers and directors at our annual meeting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on January 22.

Officers elected for 2015 are:

  • Brad Kruse, philanthropy director, Hugh J. Andersen Foundation, board chair;
  • June Noronha, senior manager, Native Nations Team, Bush Foundation, vice chair;
  • JoAnn Birkholz, foundation director, Medica Foundation, secretary; and
  • Steve Joul, president, Central Minnesota Community Foundation, treasurer.

Brad Kruse

June Noronha

JoAnn Birkholz

Steve Joul

New directors elected to three-year terms ending in 2017 are:

  • Sarah Duniway, trustee, Gray Plant Mooty Foundation;
  • Frank Forsberg, senior vice president of systems change and innovation, Greater Twin Cities United Way;
  • Aretha Green-Rupert, program officer, Otto Bremer Foundation; and
  • Judson McNeil, president, The Toro Company Giving Program and The Toro Foundation.

Directors elected to second three-year terms ending in 2017 are:

  • Brad Kruse, philanthropy director, Hugh J. Andersen Foundation;
  • Gary Nan Tie, trustee, Jerome Foundation; and
  • Tim Thorpe, trustee, James R. Thorpe Foundation.

Congratulations to all!


Mary Jane Melendez on Best Practices in Corporate Philanthropy

January 20, 2015

ff1The latest episode of Fast Forward features Mary Jane Melendez, now executive director of the General Mills Foundation!

She speaks to MCF President Trista Harris about best practices in corporate philanthropy that the General Mills Foundation is putting to good use, and about the foundation’s partnership with Hunger-Free Minnesota to support our state’s hunger-relief programs.

Hear from Melendez on:

  • How the foundation leverages General Mills employees who live in the communities the foundation serves.
  • The company’s move from traditional volunteerism to leveraging the skills and experiences of its employees.
  • The history of the Box Tops for Education program and what makes it such a big success.
  • What to look for in a successful partnership like the one the foundation has formed with Hunger-Free Minnesota.

Listen to the podcast online now, and subscribe to it through iTunes!


MCF Welcomes Luciano Patiño as Operations Assistant

January 13, 2015

LucianoPatinoPortraitAt MCF we are excited to welcome Luciano Patiño as our new operations assistant. Luciano most recently worked as a customer outreach representative at NorthstarMLS, where he led a training program aimed at helping real estate agents leverage technology.

Luciano comes to MCF with several years of volunteer experience, including three years as a board member at PFund Foundation. He has also helped at other area nonprofits, primarily doing LGBT activist work. He is excited to learn more about the philanthropic community, to help foundations and nonprofits better connect and to make a difference in Minnesota.

Luciano has a Bachelor’s Degree in Management Information Systems from the University of Minnesota. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his friends, playing video games and watching TV while covered by his two Cavalier King Charles spaniels.

Help MCF welcome Luciano at our Thursday Open House!



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