Funding to Fight Disparities: Minnesota’s Food Funders Address Health Equity Issues

January 21, 2016

By Sue Letourneau, Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, and Pam Bishop, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

There is strong legacy of creative work and collaboration between Minnesota’s funding community and hunger relief organizations and coalitions that have led to real impact. As funders who work at the intersection of food, health, and hunger, we see exciting work ahead that builds upon this foundation. New initiatives, ways of thinking, and compelling work on the ground are emerging at state and national levels.

If we look back at what’s been set in motion, we see examples of on-the-ground creativity coupled with state government’s commitment to move the dial on health and equity. The progress resonates with a new initiative at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that emphasizes creating a culture of health—one that “enables all in our diverse society to lead healthier lives, now and for generations to come.”

The Minnesota Department of Health has provided substantial investments around healthy eating and leadership as a state agency on eliminating health disparities and advancing health equity. The Governor’s office has facilitated a memorandum of agreement, signed by all state agencies, to meaningfully address equity in its programs, policies, and systems.

Many funders in the arenas of health and hunger have funded new initiatives —individually and in partnership—focused on increasing access to culturally responsive, healthy food where people get and buy food: hunger relief programs, institutional foodservice, food delivery programs, SNAP/EBT acceptance at farmers markets, and food retail. Other healthy eating initiatives across the state have added fresh produce at food shelves, established healthy food policies at hunger relief programs, and ensured that corner and convenience stores offer affordable, healthy options.

All this momentum in our state shows a shared commitment to ensuring all Minnesotans have reliable access to safe, affordable, healthy food. It also indicates a rising awareness that Minnesota’s racial disparities in health, income, and educational attainment require swift, sustained, and systemic action by a consortium of partners.

The convergence of health in all policies to advance health equity and integrate healthy food access and hunger relief provides Minnesota’s funding community with an exciting framework for future collaboration and systems change.

On January 20, the Minnesota Food Funders Network—in partnership with Greater Twin Cities United Way and the Minnesota Hunger Initiative—hosted an event: “Issue Brief: The Impact of Access to Healthy Food on Health Equity.”

More than 100 funders and program staff from across Minnesota came together for a half-day session, with presentations from the Minnesota Commissioner of Health, Ed Ehlinger; the Minnesota Assistant Commissioner of Human Services, Anne Barry; Director and Advisor of Chief Executive Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dr. Dwayne Proctor; and other speakers from the Wilder Foundation and innovative programs from across Minnesota.

This event wove together important conceptual frameworks, new ways of thinking and collaborating, and success stories. As event co-chairs, we anticipate strategic new collaborations among funders and partners to implement policy and systems changes that advance health equity, reduce hunger, and increase healthy food access. We look forward to a future of dynamic work that builds the local and regional food infrastructure that ensures healthy food environments and promotes healthy food skills for all.

As a follow-up to the event, MFFN will host a 2nd quarter meeting to explore opportunities for strategic alignment and partnership among interested parties.

Our past, current, and future work at the intersection of hunger, health, and food are an important part of the shared roadmap of 99 policy and systems changes identified by thousands of Minnesotans in the Minnesota Food Charter. With many proven, actionable strategies that address hunger, health and equity, Food Charter strategies are a great way to move the dial on health and hunger for our state. This convening, the Minnesota Food Charter, and the rich array of current and potential efforts can support our collective efforts to make meaningful progress on these important issues.

The Minnesota Food Funders Network is a group of Minnesota-based funders who make informed, coordinated, and strategic investments to improve key facets of our food system. Our partnership supports learning, networking, and strategic alignment among funders who have a shared commitment to the vitality and prosperity of our state’s communities and resilience of our landscapes inspire us to work together.

If you’re interested in getting involved:

  • Join the MFFN Listserv by contacting Katina Mortenson (, Program Manager at the Minnesota Council on Foundations
  • Attend future MFFN public meetings like this one. You can keep informed through the listserv and at Minnesota Council on Foundation’s website at
  • Contact one of us to become a member of the Minnesota Food Funders Network ( or


Digital and Social Media Transform Nonprofits

November 17, 2015

Yesterday I received an infographic showing how digital and social media have transformed communications and fundraising in nonprofits across the country. It was nicely done, so I’m sharing.

The infographic examines ways that new channels are quickly, and dramatically, changing how people engage with nonprofit organizations.

According to MDG Advertising, infographic creators, take-aways are:

  1. Nonprofits are all-in on digital — 3 of 4 top engagement channels are digital: websites, email campaigns and social media; the only non-digital channel in the top 4 is in-person events.
  2. Online giving is on the rise — online giving has risen 13% in the past 12 months, with the biggest jump in donations coming from social media fundraising (up +70% compared with last year).
  3. Facebook is the foundation of social success — 81% of nonprofits say Facebook is the most important social network for their organization; Twitter ranks second.
  4. Peer-to-peer fundraising is growing fast — 33% of online donations are made through peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, which encourage individuals and teams to rally for a cause.
  5. Websites are engagement hubs — traffic to nonprofit websites is up 11% on average since 2013, with most organizations now using their sites as hubs to provide information, accept donations and aggregate social posts.
  6. Email remains a powerful workhorse — nonprofits say email campaigns account for an average of one-third of all revenue raised. Email has the best return on investment of any marketing tactic: $40 for every $1 spent.
  7. Giving days are big — in Minnesota, Give to the Max Day raised more than $18 million in November 2015. Nationally 2014 Giving Tuesday donations spiked by more than a third compared with 2013; 4,300+ organizations raised more than $26.1 million.

2015 Trends: How Digital and Social Media Have Transformed Nonprofits [Infographic]
– Susan Stehling, communications and media specialist

Fast Forward with PPL’s Paul Williams

June 19, 2015

ff1In MCF’s latest Fast Forward podcast, MCF President Trista Harris sits down for a wide-ranging talk with Paul Williams, president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living.

Topics they discuss include:

  • The importance of being rooted in community and using it as an asset.
  • The need for scale to make a meaningful impact.
  • Paul’s wish for philanthropy to create greater leverage with government.

Listen to the podcast now! And while you’re at it, be sure to check out other recent episodes like:

Subscribe to Fast Forward on iTunes or on the podcast player of your choice to always get the latest episodes as we publish them.

Fast Forward with COF’s Jenny Harms

February 17, 2015

ff1In this month’s episode of our Fast Forward podcast, our president Trista Harris speaks with Jenny Harms, network manager for the Midwest at the national Council on Foundations!

They discuss the benefits of infusing regional foundations like MCF with ideas from across the country, and let MCF members know what Jenny will be up to in the coming months and how to get in touch.

We’re looking forward to collaborating with Jenny and COF on many projects in the coming months! Listen to Trista’s interview with her now, and don’t forget to subscribe to Fast Forward to get every episode delivered to you as we publish them.