The Minnesota Council on Foundations just released its Spring issue of Giving Forum, which reveals key results of our ambitious research study to paint a comprehensive picture of the diversity demographics, policies and practices of Minnesota grantmakers.
Are grantmakers hiring and retaining diverse staff and boards? Do they have diversity and inclusion policies in place, and are they followed? Are grantmakers going the extra mile to build capacity in minority-led nonprofits that can truly make a difference in their communities?
The data in Working Towards Diversity IV answers many of these questions. To bring the data to life, we also gathered stories from Minnesota grantmakers about their engagement in diversity and inclusion work, where they’ve been, where they are now, where they want to be, and how they envision reaching their goals.
Among those we interviewed is Patrick Troska, executive director of The Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. Here’s more:
Grant Recipient Connections Guide Funding Decisions
“Good grantmaking is about being a good listener,” says Patrick Troska, executive director of The Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. So, it is critical that funders actively seek out direct connections with constituents. “At our family foundation, we build our knowledge by asking good questions, trying to understand the nuances of particular issues, and not approaching situations as the experts with the best solutions.”
Listening and learning stretch the foundation’s comfort zone, but yield much more impactful grantmaking. “Honestly, it would be easier if we only funded what we know or are comfortable with,” Troska admits. “When you seek diversity and inclusivity, such as exploring an issue that is not part of our own personal lived experience, the grantmaking can be much more complex.”
In the early 2000s, through work with East Side Neighborhood Services (ESNS) in Minneapolis, foundation trustees became aware of female genital mutilation in the Somali community. Troska was tasked with learning more and determining if there was an education initiative the foundation could fund. After developing a connection with ESNS, an ESNS contact brought together a group of Somali women willing to discuss the topic. “This issue isn’t even discussed between Somali men and women, much less between a white male and Somali women, many of whom don’t speak English,” Troska notes.
Despite being an uncomfortable situation, the group talked for three hours with the help of a translator. “I just listened to them tell their stories and asked only a few questions,” he recalls. “We learned that female genital mutilation was culturally embedded and that, for the most part, women make the decision, not men. A small grant was not going to make a big difference in changing cultural norms, but information could be provided to women about the medical and physical aspects of the practice.”
This led to a grant to ESNS for Somali Women in Minneapolis (SWIM) focusing on support groups for Somali women. Troska explains, “The focus was not to say female genial mutilation is wrong, but rather to provide a safe place to learn and share, so that women could make decisions informed by medical, as well as cultural, knowledge.”
Troska emphasizes that only reading about this cultural practice would not have been sufficient to make an impactful grant. Fully understanding the practice by learning directly from those affected honed in on a focus for foundation funds that was not immediately obvious and underscored that successful grantmaking requires engagement with constituents.
Visit Giving Forum online to read more Giving Stories based on interviews with Minnesota grantmakers and MCF members, including General Mills Foundation, Grotto Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Marbrook Foundation, Minnesota Community and The Saint Paul Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation, Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Travelers Foundation and West Central Initiative.
Join the conversation: Have you, as a Minnesota grantmaker or a nonprofit working with a grantmaker, had success in diversity and inclusion work? Or has your organization been involved in the work, but not had the hoped-for outcomes? What were the challenges? What was accomplished? Will progress continue? What did you and/or your organization learn? We invite you to share your stories.
- Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate