Celebrating 100 Years of Innovative Community Building

What do you get when you put a lawyer, two bankers and two lumbermen together in a room?

No, not the punchline of a joke! You get a great idea – an idea brought to life by the five Twin Cities leaders who started the Minneapolis Foundation 100 years ago.

When the Minneapolis Foundation was launched in 1915, the community foundation concept was just one year old. The innovative idea behind it – place-based organizations that would allow residents from across a community to pool their charitable giving for greater impact – would go on to transform the field of philanthropy. The Minneapolis Foundation was one of the very first community foundations. Today, there are more than 1,800 worldwide.

In its first year, the Minneapolis Foundation distributed $25,000 in grants – a stark contrast with last year’s distribution of $47 million! By the end of 2015, the Foundation will have granted an estimated lifetime total of $850 million – funding that has positively impacted lives in Minneapolis and around the globe.

Many early Foundation donors and leaders were also driving forces behind some of Minnesota’s most venerable institutions. E.L. Carpenter, one of the Foundation’s founders, also helped start the Minnesota Orchestra. Early trustee James Ford Bell, a former president and board chair of General Mills, was a powerhouse behind the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History. And Frances Andrews, a conservationist and Foundation donor, funded efforts to protect wild rivers and forests in what ultimately became the Boundary Waters.

Some of the Foundation’s earliest grantees are still household names: The Salvation Army. The Boy Scouts. The YMCA and the YWCA. In many cases, Foundation donors who were passionate about a cause nearly a century ago continue to leave their mark, even though the community issues – and the nonprofits addressing them – have changed. For example, a fund established at the Foundation by donor Benjamin Stephenson in 1930, which once supported a local orphan asylum, continues to serve the community today through gifts to the Washburn Center for Children.

The causes supported by Foundation donors over the years reflect the challenges Minnesotans have faced and the victories they’ve celebrated as a community: Civil rights. Women’s rights. Breakthroughs in medical research. The environmental movement. It’s all there in the Foundation’s history, from support for Minneapolis school desegregation to grants for AIDS prevention and treatment.

The Foundation has also been there in times of crisis. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, for example, the Foundation’s trustees acted quickly to approve a grant to the emergency fund of the American Red Cross. More recently, the Foundation has responded nimbly to muster community resources after disasters such as the 35W bridge collapse and the North Minneapolis tornado.

In the next 100 years, the Foundation looks forward to continuing our tradition of connecting people, ideas and resources to make our donors’ giving go further. Working together, we can improve the lives of everyone in this community.

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