Insights on Diversity and Racial Equity from Sterling Speirn #MCFengage

November 14, 2013

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 10.34.51 AMThis morning kicked off Pause! Shift! Engage!, MCF’s 2013 Philanthropy Convening. The hundreds of grantmakers and partners in attendance just heard from Sterling Speirn, president and CEO of W.K. Kellogg Foundation, who shared insights on the foundation’s journey toward integrating greater racial equity in its work, and how others can do the same.

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Buy-in at All Levels

Speirn shared that when  he started as president and CEO in 2006, staff had recently gone through an intensive anti-racism workshop. The workshop had a clear impact but some mixed results, as many staff felt unsure where the foundation’s leadership and board stood on issues of diversity.

Speirn addressed this by asking the board of trustees to undertake this same workshop, turning it into a shared experience between board and staff.

When he later asked the trustees what they wanted to tell staff about this work, their direction was clear: “Tell the staff to be the most effective anti-racism organization it can be.” This provided the clear mandate needed for the foundation to promote racial equity and dismantle institutional racism in all its work.

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Looking Within

Another key insight from Speirn: For a foundation, it’s easier to create a new grantmaking program and ask grantees to adhere to a vision of racial equity than to look inside and ask how the foundation can make itself an inclusive environment. However, grantees and other partners were looking to the foundation to lead by example, so internal practices had to be addressed head-on.

Through tools such as the Intercultural Development Inventory, workshops led by White Men as Full Diversity Partners (again a shared experience with both board and staff), and a peer action learning network created by the Council of Michigan Foundations, W.K. Kellogg Foundation made significant progress on aligning all its work around a shared vision of diversity.

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Full Transparency

A significant step from W.K. Kellogg Foundation in demonstrating its commitment to diversity and equity was to publish the demographics of its staff and board on its website every year. This includes not just overall demographics: they are also broken down by different positions, such as board, executive leadership, program officers, etc., to give the public a fuller picture.

Through these reports, the public could see that the foundation staff moved from being comprised of 21% people of color in 2002, to 40% in 2012.

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From Counting People to Making People Count

Speirn also emphasized that counting people was only the first step on the journey. It’s important not to just have diverse people at the table, but that they also have a real voice instead of being expected to conform to an organization’s monoculture. At the final stage, these voices fully matter and contribute to better outcomes.

Speirn closed by sharing his pride that after many years of service to the foundation as a staff member, La June Montgomery Tabron will become W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s first African-American president and CEO starting in 2014.

Stay Tuned!

Look for more from the convening to come soon on this blog, and follow #MCFengage on Twitter for live updates!

We’re a Family: How Can We Be Diverse?

April 20, 2012

During discussions of diversity in philanthropy, family grantmakers sometimes get frustrated. Their thoughts may immediately turn to: “Our board members are family, how can we be diverse?”

No matter your family’s DNA or your foundation’s charter, it is possible (and desirable) to diversify the demographic make-up of your governance structure. But beyond that, your family foundation can embrace diversity and inclusion in virtually all other areas of your work, too.

During last week’s National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) teleconference entitled “Diverse Voices in Family Giving,” panelists shared some excellent, first-hand examples of diversity in action. Judy Belk, senior vice president at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, moderated the discussion with:

Diversity Within and Beyond the Family
Families grow and change not only with births, but also with marriages. When Kimberly Myers married into the Hewlett family, she joined an already diverse Flora Family Foundation board. The Flora’s may have started out looking like a typical White family, said Myers, but when family members brought their partners into the board room, culturally rich international and multi-racial perspectives were brought to the table.

But even if family members don’t become more diverse, foundation boards can deliberately choose to add non-family voices to the governance mix. Vic De Luca described how the daughters and granddaughters of the founder of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation deliberately expanded the board in the mid-1980s. The goal was not so much about increasing racial and ethnic diversity but about including varied viewpoints and life experiences.

Of 16 people on the board, nine are non-family. DeLuca described how the board composition has created an increasingly rich operation that works well with the grantee community.

Said De Luca, “Broadening our board has not changed our DNA. You can still maintain that sense of family – just expand your definition.”  It’s about, he added, expanding your knowledge to be better grantmakers.

Embracing Diversity Not Just about Demographics
De Luca provided ample evidence of how changing board perspectives – and other intentional actions – led to tangible changes in the composition of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation grantees (see graphic).

He commented on how inclusion is infused in everything the foundation board and staff does – their language, practices, advocacy and more. Here is how diversity is explicitly called out in the organization’s strategic plan:

We seek out organizations led by people of color and/or working in low income communities. We support efforts to develop the leadership skills of, and foster the participation by, low income people and people of color.

(At the Minnesota Council on Foundations, we have articulated that holistic view in our Diversity Framework, which describes how philanthropists can embrace diversity and inclusion in their four primary roles as: grantmakers, employers, business entities and community citizens.)

Resources to Use at Your Own Pace
All the NCFP panel members encouraged family foundations to move at their own pace, following their own values. Deborah Santana encouraged families to be conscious and open, and to make use of the rich array of available resources.

Judy Belk concluded by saying, “The diversity on the road ahead may look like a huge mountain, but don’t feel like it’s insurmountable.”

Here are just a few of many resources to help you begin your journey:

Join the conversation: As a philanthropist, think about your roles as funder, employer, business entity and community citizen.  What one step can you take today to intentionally address diversity, inclusion or equity in your work?

— Wendy Wehr, MCF vice president of communications and information services

Cultivating Cultures of Giving

April 18, 2012

A new donor challenge from MCF member W.K. Kellogg Foundation is raising money to support nonprofits around the country that address high-priority issues in communities of color.

Called Cultures of Giving, the challenge involves 22 participating nonprofits, including other MCF members and allies like Tiwahe Foundation and Hispanics in Philanthropy. It includes a dollar-for-dollar match from W.K. Kellogg Foundation for the first $20,000 raised by each nonprofit.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation is hosting this donor challenge using Razoo, the same platform used by to revolutionize the culture of online giving in Minnesota. This is a great example of grantmakers leveraging new technology to advance important grantmaking principles like diversity.

This 10-day campaign ends April 26. Head on over and have a look at Cultures of Giving for yourself!

The Changing Faces of Philanthropy

January 17, 2012

A new report, Cultures of Giving, commissioned by MCF member W.K. Kellogg Foundation looks at the recent growth of identity-based philanthropy – defined this way:

A growing movement to spark philanthropic giving from a community on behalf of a community, where “community” is defined by race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

The U.S. population is changing, with ethnic and racial groups growing faster than the overall population. Not surprisingly, the face of philanthropy is changing along with it.

The report found that 63 percent of Latino households now make charitable donations, and blacks give away 25 percent more of their income per year than whites.

Concurrently the definition of philanthropy is expanding to encompass contributions of any size from people of every income bracket and ethnic background. And, the report shows how these new philanthropists are pooling their money—in increasingly organized ways—for greater impact.

The report challenges funders to consider ways to collaborate:

  • by providing seed support and other forms of assistance,
  • by embracing identity-based funds as critical partners in the sector and forging stronger connections within communities of color,
  • by diversifying the leadership of mainstream philanthropy to reflect changing demographics and
  • by shifting practices to reflect what communities of color are teaching about the future of giving and how funders can positively impact the country’s most vulnerable children and families.

MCF agrees that grantmaking is most effective when grantmakers reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

For local information on the subject, check out our 2011 Working Towards Diversity IV report, which paints a comprehensive picture of the demographics, policies and practices on diversity and inclusion of Minnesota grantmakers. Review our diversity resources, and visit the websites of our strategic partners:

It’s important work. W.K. Kellogg Foundation president and CEO Sterling Speirn puts it this way, “We believe that understanding and supporting this emerging area of philanthropy is essential for any foundation, funder or donor who wants to drive social change.”

– Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

CC Photo: KellyCDB

Hats Off to These Award-Winning Minnesota Grantmakers

December 10, 2010

OK, it may be too cold here in Minnesota right now to literally take our hats off, but let’s salute these award-winning Minnesota grantmakers nonetheless:

Best Buy and Cargill, both MCF members, were honored by the U.S. Chamber with 2010 Corporate Citizenship awards.  The annual awards program, hosted by the U.S. Chamber Business Civic Leadership Center, honors companies’ social and civic commitments.

Best Buy won in the Corporate Stewardship category as a nod to its overall culture, its operational practices, and for creating shared value benefiting both the company and society.

Cargill received the International Community Service award for social involvement in countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, and Vietnam, contributing to increased economic opportunity for local communities and their residents.

The 11th annual Corporate Citizenship Awards Dinner and presentation took place in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 30.


Former MCF board member Gloria Contreras Edin has been selected by Century College, White Bear Lake, as one of four Women of Distinction for 2010.

Contreras Edin provides immigration law assistance to help families with many issues. Her office location on Payne Avenue in St. Paul is accommodating to the Latino, Hmong and Middle-Eastern communities. Edin is the past executive director of Centro Legal Inc., a nonprofit that provides legal services to immigrants. She serves on many philanthropic boards and is a national speaker on immigration policy and how it affects women and children.

Century’s sixth annual awards ceremony was Dec. 9.


The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is included in Good Magazine’s list of  “30 Places We Want to Work,” published in its Oct. 21, 2010, issue.

“Investing $400 million with 1,000 partners to advance journalistic excellence in the digital age, Knight runs on the belief that information is ‘a core community need,’ and that access to it enables democracies to thrive,” writes the magazine.

Among the 10 criteria used to determine the list are: 1) It exists at the intersection of creativity and impact; 2) It cares as much about people and the planet as it does about profit (or in the case of nonprofits, efficacy); 3) It values transparency; 4) People talk about it; 5) It loves its employees; 6) People love it, viscerally; 7) It plays well with others; 8) It uses smart technology smartly; 9) It’s appropriately located; and 10) Design is important.


In its 13th annual “NPT Power & Influence Top 50,” Nonprofit Times celebrates some of the sector’s top executives and thinkers. These executives were selected for the impact they have now and for the innovative plans they are putting in place to evolve the charitable sector. These leaders of MCF grantmakers are among the 50:

Bill Gates, co-founder, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle,Wash.: Writes the Nonprofit Times, “He who pays the piper calls the tune and so is the case with Gates and the foundation. If you can call throwing billions of dollars at something ‘targeted giving,’ Gates literally irradiates problems with the foundation’s checkbook and focuses the sector on issues that need to be addressed by more than money.”

Sterling Speirn, president & CEO, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek, Mich.: “Speirn started the Center for Venture Philanthropy in 1999 and has been funding social entrepreneurs ever since,” according to the Nonprofit Times. “He reshaped the foundation’s processes and is spending millions on non-traditional grants. Says Speirn, ‘We have to do more than just catch people when they’re falling … You build a strong base and then people will be resilient.’”

Laysha Ward, president, Community Relations & Target Foundation, Minneapolis, Minn.: “Ward is the epitome of a corporate foundation executive. Forget that the foundation gives away millions every week. She is out in the field making sure the dollars have an impact and is not shy about providing advice to CEOs of both small and name-brand charities. Her strategic funding has made a difference in sector policy and national service issues,” says the Nonprofit Times.

Congrats to these philanthropic leaders. Join me in a big round of “Thank you!”

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

Using Communications Strategies to Increase Foundations’ Public Policy Impact

August 23, 2010

The desire to achieve impact is taking yet another step. First, there was great talk about foundations moving beyond writing checks to figuring out how to change the systems that may have created the need for the check-writing in the first place.

This has led to more and more foundations putting their resources – money, knowledge and connections – toward public policy engagement and impacting public policy. We highlighted the work of several Minnesota foundations in this arena in our Summer issue of Giving Forum.

Now, a first-of-its-kind report from the Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy at the University of Southern California focuses on the question of how foundations that wish to engage in public policy are using communications to expand the reach and impact of their work even more.

The study, released in May and aptly titled “How Foundations Use Communications to Advance Their Public Policy Work,” compiles interviews with senior communications officers at 18 of the country’s largest foundations, including MCF member W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Three structural models for communications staff at these foundations emerged:

  • The advisory model, in which the communications team advises program staff both formally and informally.
  • The embedded model, where communications staff are embedded in the foundation’s major program teams.
  • The communications department model, an approach where a separate communications department produces independent products and programs, in addition to serving as advisers.

While the communications staff sizes are small, communications work extends beyond core staff and encompasses what consultants, partners and grantees do as well.

Study authors James M. Ferris, Marcia Sharp and Hilary J. Harmssen identified 10 distinct strategies foundations use to boost their public policy engagement through communications. Five are within a foundation’s grantmaking work, and five go beyond it:

Five Strategies Within the Grants Program

  1. Build communications support into the budget for a larger program – includes funding communications components of larger project grants related to public policy engagement.
  2. Give grants or contracts specifically for communications – includes stand-alone communications grants for strategy development, implementation, or messaging, as well as companion grants to projects or research studies with significant policy implications.
  3. Provide expert consulting support to grantees – includes expertise provided by consultants or networks or directly by foundation staff to further an organization’s skills and expertise in strategy development, messaging, social media, polling, and other general communications tools.
  4. Offer communications capacity building to grantees  – includes programs to build grantee skills and knowledge in organizational development, advocacy, strategy, and social media.
  5. Train program officers – includes programs on funding advocacy and communications, the role of communications in policy engagement, basic communications strategies and tactics, and legal issues related to advocacy and policy engagement.

Five Strategies Beyond the Grants Program

  1. Sponsor convenings – includes community forums and other forms of gatherings that bring together key actors and influences on an issue.
  2. Do direct media outreach – includes activities conducted in the name of the foundation, as well as on specific policy issues such as op eds, press releases, blogs, etc.
  3. Use the CEO’s bully pulpit – includes speaking, writing, or blogging on particular policy issues or topics, and calling meetings and conducting relationship building with important stakeholders.
  4. Establish communications departments within the foundation – includes publishing, creating news services, producing public education campaigns, creating media partnerships, and running awards programs.
  5. Build a cause brand – includes creating favorable/trusted name recognition for the foundation, as well as consciously developing a cause brand around a particular public problem or issue.

While communications can play a vital part in a foundation’s public policy work, interviewees stressed that the greatest challenges are: to manage the complexity of relationships involved for a core communications staff what works on daily basis with individual grantees, coalitions and collaborations, program officers, contractors and consultants; and content experts, and to integrate communications into the program work, especially at an early and strategic level.

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

What I Wish I Knew . . . with Joan Cleary

June 16, 2010

Joan Cleary, Vice President of Foundation and Community Leadership at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation (BCBSMF), offers a warm welcome for people who are new to the field of philanthropy in this “What I Wish I Knew . . . ” video.  She remembers very clearly how she got started in the field.  After graduate school, Joan did a one year fellowship program with the W. K. Kellogg Foundation designed to introduce recent graduates to the field of health philanthropy.  After her one year fellowship, she joined the staff at the foundation for two more years.

While she was there, she found a mentor who not only showed her the best practices in grantmaking, but also introduced her to the values of the field, like respect, integrity, and innovation.  As a result of her powerful and informative experience in the fellowship, BCBSMF began its own internship program where they welcome young people, new to philanthropy, to join their staff to learn about the field.

Joan encourages new staff to “listen with an open mind” and think about whether there are important voices missing in the conversation.  She says to bring your gifts and passion to this work, because “we can bring our greatest gifts to the world’s greatest needs.”  She cautions people to stay grounded, as it’s easy to get burned out, but to remember that you don’t have to go it alone: find a mentor and reach out to others to continue to grow and develop to “bring excellence to this work for the benefit of the community.”  Thanks, Joan!

View other videos in the “What I Wish I Knew . . . ” series: