Championing Good Oral Health for Children

August 30, 2012

The Early Childhood Dental Network is a nine-county, multi-disciplinary collaborative project.

While researching strengths and gaps in early childhood care and education in west central Minnesota communities, MCF member West Central Initiative (WCI) heard a common plea,

“We need better access to dental care for our children!”

WCI, working with 35 regional organizations, has turned that challenge into the Early Childhood Dental Network (ECDN).

The group educates children and their caregivers about the importance of good oral health.

Collaborative members are also working to increase access to oral health care, especially among low-income children. More than 40% of children in the region qualify for a Minnesota health care program, but most dentists in the area do not accept public payments for care.

Read more about how the group used mobile outreach clinics to brighten the smiles of 1,600 children during the last 12 months.

That, and much more, in the summer issue of Giving Forum on collaboration — online and in your mailbox now.

– Susan Stehling, MCF communications associate

Groundbreaking Initiative Earns Fifth Annual Nancy Award

July 1, 2011

The Minnesota Early Childhood Funders Network, a network of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, announced that its Fifth Annual “Nancy” Awards to recognize extraordinary leadership in improving the well-being of young children will go to the Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIFs), serving geographic regions throughout Greater Minnesota.

The awards were presented  at the Nancy Latimer Convening for Children and Youth on June 29 in St. Paul to: Initiative Foundation in Little Falls; Northland Foundation in Duluth; Northwest Minnesota Foundation in Bemidji;  Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation in Owatonna; Southwest Initiative Foundation in Hutchinson; and West Central Initiative in Fergus Falls.

The awards recognize the foundations’ leadership, vision and commitment to enhancing the social and emotional development of infants and young children through the Minnesota Thrive Initiative. The initiative, a statewide effort created and implemented by the MIFs, is groundbreaking work to strengthen local support networks to ensure the social and emotional well-being of children from birth through five, with an emphasis on the first three years. The awards honor the MIFs for these specific accomplishments:

  • Recognizing the importance of early social and emotional development to educational success and lifelong well-being
  • Creating innovative grassroots systems – from promotion and prevention to intensive intervention – to foster the healthy development of infants and children
  • Working across sectors and fostering local leadership and action
  • Sharing lessons among communities and professionals to implement new approaches and practices
  • Raising public awareness and deepening understanding of infant and early childhood mental health
  • Modeling collaboration, commitment, and creativity
  • Inspiring others to work to make life better for young children – and the adults who care about them.

“This year’s awards recognize the extraordinary leadership and commitment of the Minnesota Initiative Foundations in creating this innovative, grassroots system to ensure the social and emotional well-being of our youngest children. Their work is a vivid reminder that communities, professionals, and families can collaborate to make a profound difference for children.”  – Denise Mayotte, executive director of the Sheltering Arms Foundation and chair of the Minnesota Early Childhood Funders Network steering committee

About the Minnesota Initiative Foundations

This year, the MIFs celebrated their 25th anniversary. They were created in 1986 as a partnership between The McKnight Foundation and the citizens of Greater Minnesota. Each of the six foundations was set up as independent nonprofit philanthropic organizations with local boards of trustees.

About the “Nancy” Award

The Minnesota Early Childhood Funders Network created the “Nancy” Award to honor the legacy of Nancy Latimer, longtime senior program officer at The McKnight Foundation and a lifelong advocate for children and families.

June 29 Nancy Latimer Convening for Children and Youth Focuses on Building the Early Childhood Systems Necessary to Help Children Thrive

This year’s annual convening and award presentation was Wednesday, June 29, at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, St. Paul. The keynote presentation – “Straw, Stick, Brick: A Conversation About Building a Strong Early Childhood System” – was given by Barb Yates, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education and executive director of Resources for Child Caring, and Karen Cadigan, research fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Early Education and Development and policy director of the Children, Youth and Family Consortium.

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate


What Diversity Looks Like: Stories of Grantmakers Engaged in the Work

April 28, 2011

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

Beautify Your 2011 with a Valspar Paint Grant

January 10, 2011

Could your building use a little fresh paint? Valspar Corporation is partnering with four of the Minnesota initiative foundations to provide free paint and coatings as a part of their “Minnesota Beautiful” grant program.

Projects that may qualify for a grant include historic buildings, senior citizen centers, community centers, public buildings, murals or other visual impact projects. Find application materials and more details on the individual Minnesota initiative foundation websites linked to here:

All applications are due by March 7, 2011.

Grantmaker Leaders Elected as MCF Officers and Board Members

December 16, 2010

Join me in welcoming these board members and officers to the leadership helm of the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF), a regional association of grantmakers whose members represent three-quarters of all grantmaking in the state, awarding more than $900 million to nonprofits annually.

Officers elected for 2011: Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, vice president, Community Philanthropy, The Minneapolis Foundation, was elected chair; Kate Wolford, president, The McKnight Foundation, was elected vice chair; George Thompson, trustee, Minnesota Community Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation, was elected secretary; Nancy Nelson, vice president and chief actuary, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, was elected treasurer.

New directors elected to three-year terms ending in 2013 are: Kim Embretson, vice president – fund development, West Central Initiative; and Kayla Yang-Best, director, Cargill Foundation and Cargill Inc. Jim Hoolihan, president/CEO, Blandin Foundation, was elected to fill a one-year vacancy in the class of 2011.

Directors elected to second three-year terms ending in 2013 are: Nelson; Sherry Ristau, president/CEO, Southwest Initiative Foundation; Carolyn Roby, vice president, Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota; Thompson; and Wolford.

The Minnesota Council on Foundations, founded in 1969, works actively to strengthen and expand philanthropy. Members include family and private independent foundations, community and other public foundations, and corporate foundations and giving programs.

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

S’Mores and iPhone Apps: Family Philanthropy Conversations

August 17, 2010

Some of our best family discussions happen around the camp fire. In between licking s’mores off our fingers, we share school experiences, summer wishes, and funny stories.

The next time you're around the campfire, why not talk about family giving?

Last weekend, we brought out our TableTopics cube of conversation starters and enjoyed the summer air while listening to each other answer questions such as  “Would you rather meet your great grandparents or your great grandchildren?” “What is your family known for?” and “Is it more fun to be a parent or a child?”

When I came back to work on Monday and dove into creating content for our fall issue of Giving Forum, which will focus on family philanthropy, I thought of a few of my own family philanthropy conversation starters I could pull out next time we’re sitting around the campfire:

  • If you had $1,000 dollars (which sounds like all the money in the world to a young child), and you could use it to change someone’s life, what would you do with it?
  • Do you think it’s better to give the entire $1,000 to one person and make a really big difference or give $100 to 10 people and make less of a difference but affect more people?
  • What is one problem now that you hope doesn’t exist in 10 years? 50 years?
  • If you could make a movie about how to make the world a better place, what would your movie be like?
  • When you do something really great, how important is it that others know what you did?
  • If you could invent something that would make the world a better place, what would you invent?

West Central Initiative, an MCF member, brings the thought-provoking discussion from the camp fire to the kitchen table in its recent issue of FOCUS on the Region, a quarterly publication. Here’s an excerpt of Sheri Holm’s article:

Kitchen table philanthropy involving the whole family

The next time your family comes together for a day at the lake or a barbeque in the backyard, why not take an hour to discuss  how your family can make an impact on the things that are most meaningful to all of you.

Some questions to pose to your ‘kitchen table philanthropists”:

1. First, let your family know that including charitable giving in your estate does not mean leaving out the children, grandchildren and other family members. Including charities in your planning can actually enhance what your loved ones will inherit. Because your family is important to you, their input into how those charitable dollars are spent and what organizations they will support is also important to you.

2.Encourage your family to talk about the charitable organizations they currently support. Ask each about the most satisfying charitable gift that they have made. Other questions could include:

  • Do you see your family as a family who “gives back”? How do you feel about that?
  • Are local issues and organizations more important to your family than national or international organizations?
  • Are there projects or organizations you would like the family’s name linked with?
  • What would the family like to see accomplished through charitable giving?

Including your loved ones in these discussions can provide multiple benefits. It gives them a role in your decision making. They will understand what you want to do and how you want to do it. It should also ensure that there will be no surprises for the family at the time your estate is settled.

If you’d like your conversation spurred on by techie gadgets, guess what? There’s an iPhone app that might just be up your alley. My colleague here at MCF, Cary Walski, found Picture Your Legacy, which guides you toward articulating what you’d like your legacy to be – in business, philanthropy or life – by selecting and sorting images that reflect what you want to accomplish in the world. “What does a dancer leaping across the stage, a redwood tree or a lighthouse beacon say about the funder you aspire to be?” reads the promotional text on the app’s website.

Once you go through the app’s exercises, you can email them to yourself and other family members for further reflection and discussion. So, if sitting around a campfire or the kitchen table together isn’t in the cards, now you can still share your philanthropy philosophy by way of the virtual kitchen table.

Join the conversation: What questions could you ask your kids to find out how they see themselves changing the world? What questions might help guide them to think philanthropically? Have you tried any kind of conversation starters to spark discussion about your family’s philanthropy? How will iPhone apps and other tech devices influence how families discuss their philanthropy and make decisions in lieu of sitting around the camp fire or the kitchen table?

– Chris Murakami Noonan, MCF communications associate

Image CC quinn.anya

Rural Development: Philanthropy’s Secret to Success

July 27, 2010

At Philanthropy Potluck we love featuring the outstanding work of our MCF members.  Here’s a recent West Central Blogger post written by Kim Embretson, West Central Initiative vice president of development.

How do you create success in rural communities? A small group of foundation leaders from all over the nation have been tackling this question. They have discovered that when you combine the features of economic development, community development and philanthropy you unlock the secret to success.

Often rural community leaders struggle alone trying to build the systems that will make their community successful. Eight years ago, four community foundations all working with rural economic development were brought together as part of an Aspen Institute learning community. They discovered a common thread of activities that influenced the success of rural communities. They decided to work together to help rural communities all over the nation.

West Central Initiative, The Nebraska Community Foundation, The Humboldt Area Foundation in California, The East Tennessee Foundation, The Black Belt Community Foundation, The Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, The Center for Rural Strategies, and North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center have formed the Rural Development Philanthropy Collaboration steering committee. They have been able to compare years of experience working with successful rural communities to collect the most effective actions that lead to success.

The Rural Development Philanthropy is no longer a secret. Now the core documents are available for anyone interested in the success of their rural community at  Learn how your rural community or region can benefit from combining economic development, community development and philanthropy.

Grant support from the Ford Foundation, California Endowment, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the community foundations on the steering committee has helped underwrite the cost of meetings and materials to date.

Visit West Central Blogger for more regional community foundation news.