I Hope I Never Take This for Granted

In just a few minutes last week, I got the best present anyone could possibly give me this year: Coming around a corner in our Minneapolis Foundation offices, I saw five members of our team surrounding a table piled high with checks they were stuffing into envelopes. They had to form this ad hoc assembly line because so many checks are going out before the end of the year to good causes in the community. Those checks go to organizations that make schools better, put people to work and families into homes, protect the environment, cure diseases, nurture the arts… the list goes on.

R.T. Rybak

R.T. Rybak

This is probably old hat to a lot of people who have been at The Minneapolis Foundation for a while—and on some scale this has been going on for the entire 100 years the Foundation has been around. But in this, my first December on the job, it was an awesome moment. This is when it sinks in that we have 1,200 charitable funds that put $60-80 million into the community every year.

I knew all this before I started the job, but being on the inside for my first year-end really brings it to life:

For months, we have been meeting with people who already have a fund, people who want to start one and people who just want to find some way to do something good for the community. Some of them are people with enormous wealth, but the big surprise is how many people of relatively modest means have put together a few thousand dollars because it means a lot to be able to give it away.

This time of year, many of our donors are on the phone with our Philanthropic Advisors, finalizing how much they will put into their funds to give away. Every time someone opens another charitable fund, we play music on the loudspeaker. (It’s usually a really cheesy song, but it sounds great because we know it means more money to give away.)

For months, we have been meeting with people doing some amazing things in the community. On a lot of levels, everything sounds worthy, so much of the work is trying to make really tough choices between very good groups. So for the past few weeks, our Community Impact team has been working late to finish their recommendations for our competitive grants in education, economic vitality and civic engagement. With their help, in January, we’ll send $5 million more out the door.

While our Philanthropic Advisors and Community Impact team work with our donors and the groups that receive grants, a large part of our operation spends most of the time working in less visible ways to get money in and out the door. They do everything from developing marketing campaigns to processing those stacks of checks to managing all the data to developing smart strategies for investing the nearly $700 million in assets that we manage.

This brings it back to those five people sitting around the table as I walk in the door: Colleen, Andrea, Rush, Joyce and Nancy. They are the glue of the office, running the front of the office, as well as managing the systems that get the money from donors to grantees. They are the people closest to my desk, so I see them throughout the day, and it’s really inspirational to watch how much passion they bring to the work.

I don’t want to overdo my point. While the Foundation is filled with people doing good every day, this isn’t Santa’s workshop. This is a sophisticated, complex operation dealing with many millions of dollars and deeply consequential choices about community impact.

But here in my first year-end at the Foundation, seeing it all come together, I’m in awe as I see what it really takes to make Minneapolis the most generous community in the country. And I’ve already gotten a better present than anyone could give me.