The Future Started Yesterday

December 6, 2013

MCF President Trista Harris at the 2013 Philanthropy Convening

Earlier this week, we showed you the TED talk “Abundance is Our Future” that we watched at the 2013 MCF Philanthropy Convening.

MCF President Trista Harris used this as a springboard into her closing talk, saying she sees small groups of people doing extraordinary things in the nonprofit sector all the time. But, she lamented, “The social sector uses old data, which makes it tough to see the future.” One example: U.S. census data, which is currently nine years old.

Her mission, she said, is to turn the boat around, so we can all see the future. “Many great ideas are right on the horizon, but we won’t see them if we don’t know what we’re looking for.”

Here are three positive trends Harris is seeing now.

Better, Cheaper, Faster Technology

“Technology is getting better, cheaper and faster on a very predictable schedule,” Harris said. “This allows us to do things today that we couldn’t think of doing 10 years ago.”

Diversity of Youth

Our youngest residents are much more diverse than our oldest, and we must use this diversity as an asset and not let it tear our state apart.

“We can’t forget that Minnesota is successful when we rely on each other. And ‘each other’ looks different than it used to,” said Harris.


“Nonprofiteers” are young people in our community who are exposed to nonprofit and philanthropy work early in their lives and see it as a career path.

She cited 2013’s We Day as a great example. On We Day, 18,000 students from 400 schools across Minnesota were entertained and engaged in the greater good. Attendees earned entry by committing to take action on at least one local and one global initiative during the next year.

“We may not see the next generation doing good,” said Harris. “Because it looks different than how we do good.”

21st Century Foundation Leadership

Harris shared a glimpse of where MCF is headed, saying the work will revolve around 21st century foundation leadership and getting people ready to learn together.

Areas that will be important include: diversity, equity and inclusion; the leadership pipeline; public policy; cross-sector partnerships; effective grantmaking practice and principles; and anticipating future trends.

Join the conversation: What are other important trends you see in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors?

Giving Folks the (Online) Space They Need

August 21, 2013

blandinToday we welcome Jennifer Bevis from Blandin Foundation, who recently facilitated an MCF program on managing online communities. She shares her experience here on what Blandin has tried, what worked and what didn’t, and the lessons they’ve learned!

As an organization that’s been in the hope business for more than 70 years, Blandin Foundation knows each rural community — whether of practice or geography — has unique dreams and follows its own journey to those dreams. Creating and holding open space for the conversations needed for those journeys is one of our most important jobs, we think.

First, let’s give a nod to in-person conversations, still the “gold standard” for people to find and build common ground. But as a private foundation focused exclusively on rural Minnesota, Blandin Foundation also knows the power of online tools to break the distance barrier so people separated by miles can easily connect with others who share a passion for building vibrant rural communities.

For many of the online communities we work with, a sense of “safe space” is key. Communities seek “containers” in which to share inspirations, fears and strategies. (Face-to-face conversations work the same: folks will meet to plan something before sharing with the community at large.)

With this dynamic in mind, most online spaces we’ve created — on community leadership, student success, broadband adoption and forest productivity — are closed. Members must ask to join, giving them confidence to speak up and test out their ideas.

Like many organizations that find themselves in “backbone” roles, we started using online spaces as an experiment. After more than five years in the game, we keep the spirit of experimentation — staying open and energized by new solutions and being flexible in how we define success — and build on some basic communications best practices:

Make sure the tool fits the need
ur first online community, a wiki about water quality, seemed to fit the group’s needs. But interest dried up because some members weren’t familiar with how to use features like posting and commenting (Facebook wasn’t a household name back then). Take the time to define your project: the audience, their needs, and what success looks like.

Plan the work / work the plan
Our next foray, a forestry group blog, was more successful. We used a “logic model” to define the project, and worked with some members to write guest posts. Though it took significant care and feeding from staff (what online tool doesn’t?), the blog had a healthy, several-year lifespan. Today, some content is getting a second life as content for a white paper, so we’re starting to include information harvesting / archiving plan in communications planning up front.

Keep what works. Let go of the rest.
Our 25 online spaces, including blogs, social media and a suite of websites, are hungry beasts. We routinely check traffic counts, staff time invested, dialogs created, quality of influencers involved in the dialogs and purpose, since we do sometimes ask ourselves “do we need ‘em all?” So far the answer has been yes — but giving ourselves permission to let go of one or more is liberating, and helps us focus on the opportunities of new work without feeling overwhelmed by what we’ve already created.

Community collaboration is growing in this era of “new normal” resources. It’s important to give folks the space they need to work on the issues they care about most. We’re getting better at it, one online conversation at a time.

Making Communications Technology Work for You

May 7, 2013

commnetDo you feel like you’re chasing your tail when it comes to managing online communications at your organization?

As the landscape grows and evolves, it becomes more difficult to stay on top of all of the digital tools available, while also keeping up with the day-to-day work.

In April, The Communications Network hosted a webinar called “Smart Tech for Smart Communicators,” to help nonprofit communicators do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

Liz Bartolomeo, media director at the Sunlight Foundation, led off the discussion with this question:

“We are using all these great apps and tools on our mobile devices getting into work…why can’t we take some of this same technology and apply it for our daily jobs as communicators?”

Here are some of the many resources she shared.

Outreach Tools

  • an email plugin that searches the internet and shows you everything about your email contacts inside your inbox; especially helpful for media contacts.
  • combines all of your social networks into one big tool to help you track who is talking about your organization, and other keywords of interest. It can also provide some analytics.
  • Tumblr: micro-blogging platform that Sunlight uses to share cool things that they found on the internet, rather than news about the foundation. Sunlight’s Tumblr is now its most popular social network.
  • Storify: creates a narrative with a collection of tweets, photos and videos that you can repurpose on a website or in a blog post, and is a good way to keep an archive of the work you’re doing.

Engagement Tools

  • Chartbeat: A paid service that gives you real-time metrics of who’s on your site and how they’re engaging with your content. You can see how many concurrent visitors you have, where they are, how they came to your site and much more.
  • Topsy: A site for searching within social networks to see who is talking about you within Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Productivity Tools

  • Pinboard: A simple bookmarking site that allows you to save and tag your bookmarks and things you want to find online. You can share your pinboard with others or keep it private; Sunlight uses it to manage press clippings.
  • IFTTT: An acronym for “if this than that” allows you to create cheat sheets for the internet. Takes all of the channels of information online and allows you to create “recipes” made of triggers, actions and ingredients to help you track information you’re interested in.

Logistic Tools

  • Eventbrite: Allows you to do low-cost or free ticketing for events.
  • A simple way to process payments, email receipts, and track purchases.
  • Etherpad: Open-source program to share and edit collaborative notes in real-time (would be especially helpful for conference sessions).

Research Tools

You can watch a video of the whole thing on The Communication Network’s website.

– Megan Sullivan, MCF operations and publications coordinator

The Top Ten Posts of 2012

December 27, 2012

fireworksAs the year quickly draws to a close, here’s a look back at some of the most popular content on the Philanthropy Potluck Blog in 2012.

Have a look to get a refresher or catch up on the ones you missed!

  1. Measuring the Value in Social Media Dashboards, metrics and insights for measuring internal and external values, while always tying it all back to high-level organizational goals.
  2. Visualizing Philanthropy: Storytelling with Data Takeaways from an MCF program with Cole Nussbaumer, people analytics manager at Google.
  3. Connect for Health with the Blue Cross Foundation The launch of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation’s innovative grant program that engaged the community through a voting process.
  4. Performance Measurement: No More Excuses A first look at the new PerformWell website, designed to give nonprofits accessible, valid tools for evidence-based measurement of their work.
  5. Diversity and Donors of the Future The first blog post from Lissa Jones, MCF’s new director of diversity, equity and inclusion, looks at 12 key giving trends for nonprofits.
  6. Social Media Engagement Lessons From Knight Foundation Why are foundations seeing limited engagement from their grantees on social media? Knight Foundation’s Elizabeth Miller shared tips to turn that around.
  7. Sandy Vargas Recognized as Outstanding Citizen The Minneapolis Foundation president and CEO was honored by The Caux Round Table.
  8. The Best Free Ways to Collaborate Online Tools for project management, file sharing, online meetings and more. Also see the longer feature in Giving Forum.
  9. Karen Kelley-Ariwoola Lauded for Community Contributions A celebratory send-off for Kelley-Ariwoola as she stepped down from her role at The Minneapolis Foundation after 18 years of service.
  10. Striving to Reduce the Achievement Gap A look at the Twin Cities Strive initiative and its future impact on education grantmaking in the state.

Join the conversation: What were your favorite blog posts of 2012?

Photo cc MJIphotos

A New National Day of Giving Back

November 21, 2012

With this year’s Give to the Max Day in the bag, it’s clear that Minnesotans have widely embraced this day-long giving extravaganza. More than $16 million was given by 53,000 donors to almost 4,400 nonprofits and schools, all new records for our state’s annual event.

Now, a new movement that starts next week  is seeking to harness that same charitable impulse on a national level.

Called Giving Tuesday, it aims to take back some of the holiday season attention currently devoted to Black Friday, Cyber Monday and shopping, shopping, shopping. After several days spent buying, it asks people around the country to consider giving back.

Making donations will be a big part of Giving Tuesday, but unlike GiveMN, the Giving Tuesday website won’t be a one-stop portal for contributions. Instead, individual nonprofits will create their own campaigns and encourage donations through their normal channels.

The organizers also suggest other ways to get involved, including:

  • Committing to volunteer during the day
  • Asking employers to provide matching contributions or declaring Giving Tuesday a day of volunteerism
  • Becoming a social media ambassador, spreading the word and rallying others to the cause

With major media partners like Mashable and the Huffington Post supporting the effort, Giving Tuesday might well be on its way to breaking into the national conversation on how we spend our time and money during the holiday season.

Visit the website and follow #GivingTuesday on Twitter to follow along and participate!

-Chris Oien, MCF web communications associate

Honoring Innovation in Technology

November 8, 2012

Last week, the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) presented the 2012 Tekne Awards to honor those who play a significant role in discovering new technologies that educate and improve the lives and futures of people living in Minnesota and beyond.

An MCF member and a nonprofit changing the way Minnesota gives online were among the recipients:

Blandin Foundation (on behalf of the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities Coalition) won the Innovative Collaboration of the Year Award.

Blandin Foundation aims to ensure that its rural Minnesota partner communities have access to broadband Internet capabilities.

The latest in a series of broadband projects led by Blandin Foundation, MIRC was built on the lessons learned and the success of its predecessor broadband-focused programming. It supports a broadband vision for Minnesota, developed by the project’s guiding strategy: to ensure a high quality of life and a globally competitive future for its citizens, businesses and communities.

MIRC partners are numerous and the impact the collaboration has had on broadband adoption is significant. In fact, the adoption rate is 29.8% faster in MIRC partner communities when compared to the rest of rural Minnesota.

GiveMN (an affiliate of Minnesota Philanthropy Partners) won the Technology Excellence in a Nonprofit Organization Award.

GiveMN aims to transform philanthropy in Minnesota by growing overall giving and moving more of it online.

Since its launch in 2009, GiveMN has helped raise $50 million, for over 6,600 non-profits. GiveMN’s new model for e-philanthropy, combined with its relationships with local partners, lends credibility to the organization’s mission. In addition, GiveMN provides training to help non-profits and individuals become more digitally savvy fundraisers.

GiveMN’s fourth annual Give to the Max Day is one week from today, on Thursday, November 15.

Congratulations to all fifteen of this year’s Tekne Award winners!

– Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

Photo cc mrsdkrebs

Creating a Shared System That’s a Game Changer

July 30, 2012

IBM employees have donated many hours helping staff at participating agencies create Olmsted Connect cards for clients. Use of the cards has reduced wait time at a participating food shelf from as long as 90 minutes down to five.

MCF members IBM Corporation and United Way of Olmsted County , plus other nonprofit partners, have created a Community Information Sharing System (CISS) that has truly changed how social services are delivered in southeastern Minnesota.

Before implementation of the system, it was nearly impossible for funders and nonprofits to know if one client was being served many times or if many clients had each been served once. Assessing the true level of support was extremely difficult.

Since implementation of the system, clients provide their basic information one time. After that, they swipe their new Olmsted Connect card, which identifies them to 20 participating social service agencies and tracks any services they receive.

The cloud-based CISS stores the collected data, and a variety of data-rich reports can be generated by any participating organization and by the community as a whole.

Read more about the remarkable productivity gains experienced by participating nonprofits in the summer issue of Giving ForumThe issue, which is online and in your mailbox now, features many articles about collaboration between organizations, across sectors and around the state.

– Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate