Finding Common Ground

Local nonprofits, leaders and events help bring people together

I was so happy to get back into my office at The Minneapolis Foundation after the new year because, honestly, I needed a vacation from the vacation.

Over the holidays, I had some rare time to just veg out, so I got to see the “year in review” TV shows and read about 2018 in magazines and all over the Internet. After taking it all in, I could only say three words: What. A. Mess!

I was left with a deeply depressing picture of a world and country in conflict, with people talking over each other and rarely listening, facing massive challenges almost no one seems to want to face.

So when I got back to my desk to start 2019, I asked myself: Is there any place anymore where people are actually getting anything done? Getting along? Willingly bringing together people who don’t always agree to take on those big challenges that no one person can solve alone?

Where do we find common ground?

The good news is that I didn’t have to look very far. Just to the right of my desk is a whiteboard that shows why the work going on at The Minneapolis Foundation is exactly the common-ground antidote I need—and the world needs—at this deeply divided time.

What’s on that whiteboard that says so much? It’s a list of the top 30 organizations that received money through The Minneapolis Foundation each year since 2009. If you don’t know the background, you would just see words on a board. To understand why it speaks so deeply to me—and should speak to everyone—you need to understand how the 103-year-old Minneapolis Foundation works:

Since 2008, the Foundation has sent about $600 million in contributions to nonprofits in this community and around the world. Unlike most foundation CEOs, the person in my shoes running the place doesn’t get to decide who gets those contributions. This is a community foundation—a place where people open their own charitable accounts that we hold, invest and distribute—so our donors recommend where all that money goes. And when you get to know the 1,800 donors who have accounts here, you realize they come from every imaginable background: some are incredibly wealthy, some are absolutely not; some inherited money, some are self-made; some are conservative Republicans, some are progressive Democrats, and some are completely apolitical; some are from cities, some are from suburbs, some are from farms, and some are not from Minnesota.

Now back to the whiteboard: Seeing all those names of all those groups that receive money from the Foundation, it is safe to say that most of what moves in the civic world in this city received support from The Minneapolis Foundation. That’s especially true in the six areas where our donors give the most: education, economic vitality, civic engagement, arts, the environment and health. Even better, the amount of money that goes into the community from here every year has more than doubled in the last decade, from about $30 million in 2008 to about $70 million this fiscal year.

We do much more than just process those contributions. Our Philanthropic Advisors work with donors to develop goals for their giving, and we help them find the right organizations to meet those goals. Backing up our Philanthropic Advisors are specialists in community issues, a finance team that helps invest the money until it goes into use in the community, and a team that ensures the organizations receiving support are eligible for grants.

We deeply value the one-on-one relationships we have with our community’s most charitable people. We want to do more to have them meet each other, and to become part of what we call a Giving Community. Together, they are 1,800 people giving $70 million a year to nonprofit organizations. If they find common ground, there is almost nothing they can’t make better.

We want you to be part of that Giving Community, and you will have plenty of chances. Our 2019 calendar will include:

  • A “15 Organizations to Watch” event—a chance for our community impact team to tell you about the nonprofits they are keeping an eye on.
  • A series of conversations about our community’s most pressing issues with Chanda Smith Baker, our Senior Vice President of Community Impact.
  • A major event in May on climate change with the region’s top environmental leaders.
  • Two major events with Robyn Schein, who leads our Family Philanthropy Resource Center, where you can join other families to learn how to work together across generations to help others.
  • The first-ever OneMPLS Dinner, a fun and informative evening that will be our largest event of the year.
  • Graze 4 Good on April 14. This fundraiser for Fourth Generation, our giving circle for young professionals, features food from the region’s top chefs.
  • On top of all that, if you’re in South Florida on March 1, join us for our annual get-together at a Twins spring training game.

If you come to any of these events, we promise you will learn something about the issues we face. Probably even more important, we want you to meet other people who care about the community. That is the first step in building the common ground we so desperately need right now. How can you help?

Come to these events and:

  • Bring others. Even if your friends don’t have a fund at The Minneapolis Foundation, we want them to join us, because our mission is to bring together as many people as possible for the common good.
  • Ask the people you know if they have a donor advised fund at a financial institution. If they moved that fund to The Minneapolis Foundation (a very simple process), they could help power this Giving Community and, in the process, get a whole team of our advisors as well as 1,800 partners.
  • If someone you know has a “liquidity event”—a bonus, an inheritance, or the sale of stock or a company—remind them that they can start a fund at The Minneapolis Foundation that gives them a tax advantage AND a partnership with our team and the Giving Community.

In the two and a half years I have been at The Minneapolis Foundation, I have met some of the most generous people I’ve ever known. I find it especially moving that in this deeply divisive time, the community heroes I’ve met here cross every boundary of ideology, geography, race and gender that divides so much of our world today. The more time you spend with us, especially at these upcoming events, the more I believe you will agree.

Common ground is still possible. I know, because I see it here every day at The Minneapolis Foundation.