A Breakthrough in Their Giving

Donors Jeff and Marilyn Rivkin took advantage of the Minneapolis Foundation’s knowledge of community needs to make a new connection with a nonprofit that’s working on a cause they care about.

Jeff and Marilyn Rivkin have always been thoughtful about their charitable giving. They’re quick to say they’re not major philanthropists, but they’ve always donated to the causes they care about.

Jeff and Marilyn Rivkin

Jeff and Marilyn Rivkin

Marilyn works as a consultant for nonprofits, including several that focus on adolescent health or youth development, and some of the organizations she supports are groups that she first connected with professionally. She and her husband, a software development consultant, also contribute to a range of education and advocacy organizations.

Two years ago, the Edina couple decided to step up their giving by establishing a Donor Advised Fund at the Minneapolis Foundation. Initially, they saw the fund as a convenient way to manage their long-term charitable giving. What they found was so much more. “The Foundation surpassed any of our expectations in terms of how much we enjoy it and how much we’ve learned from it,” Marilyn said.

“This is just what we were hoping would happen at the Foundation—that we would connect with organizations doing innovative and effective work in the community.”  —Marilyn Rivkin

The Rivkins have always wanted to know that the money they give is making a difference in the community. They make a point of researching the nonprofits they support, and they seek out organizations that show measurable results. They track their contributions on a spreadsheet and review it regularly to make sure their giving aligns with their priorities. And every year, they try to give more than they did the year before. Even so, Jeff said, “We always had the nagging feeling that, despite our best efforts, we lacked a coherent philosophy about our giving.”

By joining forces with the Minneapolis Foundation, the Rivkins found that they suddenly had access to a wealth of new ideas, new tools, and new connections to make their giving go further. They’ve attended meetings hosted by the Foundation on topics in philanthropy and conferences on critical community issues, and they’ve discussed options and ideas about their giving with their Philanthropic Advisor at the Foundation.

Recently, they took their partnership with the Foundation a step further. Last fall, their Philanthropic Advisor invited them to join the Foundation in funding one of the nonprofits that applied for support through its competitive grant program, which addresses local needs related to education, economic vitality, and civic engagement. After the Rivkins had reviewed several grant applications, one caught their eye: A request from Breakthrough Twin Cities, a six-year, tuition-free academic enrichment program that prepares low-income students of color for college. The Rivkins care deeply about education, so they agreed to recommend a $2,500 grant to Breakthrough from their Donor Advised Fund. It was a larger donation than Jeff and Marilyn usually make to any single nonprofit, but a leap they were comfortable making on the recommendation of Foundation staff, who are well-versed in Twin Cities education issues.

“Jeff and Marilyn really understand the key issues impacting youth in our community, what Breakthrough is accomplishing: Overcoming the achievement gap, getting kids into Ivy League schools, beating the odds.”  —Mikisha Nation

They wanted to learn more about the organization, so their Philanthropic Advisor arranged for them to meet with Breakthrough’s executive director, Mikisha Nation. “We were blown away by her, and impressed by Breakthrough’s vision and results,” Marilyn said. “This is just what we were hoping would happen at the Foundation—that we would connect with organizations doing innovative and effective work in the community.”

Breakthrough was equally glad to meet them. “Jeff and Marilyn really understand the key issues impacting youth in our community, what Breakthrough is accomplishing: Overcoming the achievement gap, getting kids into Ivy League schools, beating the odds,” Mikisha said. “They were eager to help us, not just with funding, but as committed partners.”

For the Foundation, “the partnerships that we have with donors like Jeff and Marilyn really increase our ability to make impactful change on critical issues in the Twin Cities,” said Jenny Johnson, the Rivkins’ Philanthropic Advisor. “One of the best parts of my job is helping people figure out what exactly they want to do to make the world a better place. I feel so honored to have the opportunity to help donors identify a local organization that’s doing great work in their specific area of interest.”

For the Rivkins, the meeting with Breakthrough was a great example of how working with a community foundation has given them access to networks and information that they couldn’t tap into as easily on their own. “We’re not big donors, but we care deeply about giving,” Marilyn said. “Here, we get to play in the big game.”

Are you interested in using your Donor Advised Fund to support innovative nonprofits that work on education, economic vitality, or civic engagement in the Twin Cities? Contact your Philanthropic Advisor and ask how you can learn more about local community needs and opportunities.

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The Rivkins have used their Donor Advised Fund at the Minneapolis Foundation to support Breakthrough Twin Cities, a nonprofit organization that prepares under-resourced students for college success.