The Minneapolis Foundation: Giving Community

Remarks prepared for delivery by Minneapolis Foundation President and CEO R.T. Rybak at the Foundation’s 2018 Annual Celebration event on May 17, 2018. Visit our Facebook page to see photos from the event.

I’m R.T. Rybak and my passion is making sure every single child gets a fair start in life, and a pathway to soar. That’s why I use my personal fund at the Minneapolis Foundation to support groups like the Northside Achievement Zone and Reading Partners. My wife, Megan O’Hara, is passionate about our planet and protecting our climate. That’s why she has used our fund at the Minneapolis Foundation to support Minnesota InterFaith Power and Light, and the Just Solar coalition’s training programs that get people of color into solar construction.

We are not alone. We are among the 1,800 donors who have funds at the Minneapolis Foundation. There is almost nothing of consequence in the Minneapolis-St. Paul’s civic community that does not have help from one of our donors. Our donors also make significant contributions all over the world.

Five years ago, our donors contributed about $40 million to funds at The Minneapolis Foundation every year. Better yet, together with our donors, we awarded about $40 million in grants every year to thousands of non-profit organizations in Minneapolis and beyond.

Now, raising and distributing about $40 million in charitable contributions is an extraordinary achievement. However, our Board of Trustees, along with my predecessor Sandy Vargas and her team, believed we could do more. So, they launched the Growth for Impact plan; it called for the Foundation to make key investments that would help us inspire more people to contribute more resources and make an even bigger impact in our communities. Our goal: increase annual contributions to as much as $80 million by the year 2020.

So, how did we do?

In 2016, our donors contributed $53.8 million. The year after that, contributions jumped to $77.7 million. And last year was our most successful ever as donors combined to contribute $104 million to funds at The Minneapolis Foundation. That more than doubled our average annual contribution five years ago, and beat our goal by more than $20 million well before the year 2020.

We are obviously proud of this achievement. In fact, you may have read about it in the paper, heard about it on the radio, or saw me talking about it on television. But, for us, that’s not the best part. After all, the plan isn’t called “Growth”; it’s called “Growth for Impact” because the reason we want to bring more money in is so that we can put more money to work out in the community, especially in the places that need it most.

So, did our growth have impact?

In 2016, we awarded nearly $53 million in grants. The following year, our grants totaled $57.5 million. And last year, together with our donors, The Minneapolis Foundation put $70 million into the community; $30 million more than what we averaged just five years ago. That is an achievement worth celebrating. But it should also challenge us to look at our community, and our world, with clear eyes, recognize that we still face many significant challenges, see the opportunities to make a positive impact in our community, and do more, much more, to help make life better for people in Minneapolis and beyond.

One thing we know is that we can do more to measure the impact of the work that is supported through our grants. We want to be even more rigorous in both gathering, understanding and sharing data that will help us target resources to efforts that will truly improve lives. So, we increased our capacity in research, analytics and assessment, and will do far more to help our donors make the most of their charitable investments.

We pride ourselves on building deep one-on-one relationships with donors. One thing we know is that our donors also want to connect with and learn from each other. A few years back, we hosted several successful events to celebrate the Foundation’s centennial. Donors told us they wanted more event because they help spark new ideas and create new connections that helped them make smart choices about where to give. We listened and over the past 18 months we have added hosted many convenings on a range of topics like the environment, arts, health, education.

We listened when our donors said they also want to build stronger relationships with the people and organizations working to make an impact in the community. That was the goal behind our “15 Organizations to Watch” event and last month’s “Building a Healthy Community.”

We listened when our donors said they want us to respond quickly to community needs. So, when we saw a disturbing increase in religious intolerance, we worked quickly and launched the Faith in Each Other Funds. And after the horrible school shootings in Florida, we brought donors together to learn more about the impact guns and trauma have in our own community. Those conversations led to the creation of our Fund for Safe Initiatives.

We listened when they told us that they wanted to learn more about not just where to give, but how. That’s behind the success of the Family Philanthropy Resource Center, which brings our donors together to learn from our team of experts, and each other, about how giving brings new meaning to relationships in our families. As well as Fourth Generation, a program that brings together young people from all walks of life to learn about a pressing community issue and then work together to raise funds and award grants to non-profits.

You can see why we are proud to be The Minneapolis Foundation. But we don’t want you to think of us as just a foundation. That makes us sound like a place where a handful of staff make choices about where the money goes. We are more than so much more than that. When I took this job, I said I want the Foundation “to reassert its rightful place at the center of our civic community.” I want us to be a place where staff, donors, and so many others come together and create something greater than the sum of its parts. I want people to think of The Minneapolis Foundation as a Giving Community.

Our Giving Community has the capacity to improve lives. When a challenge or opportunity arises in our city, our Giving Community cannot and will not stand on the sidelines. This means we want to partner more with other foundations, like when did when our $100,000 helped leverage $750,000 from other foundations for the Solidarity Minnesota Fund supporting immigrants facing serious challenges.

It means we want to work more with business and business organizations, like our partnership with the Itasca Group and Greater MSP on ConnextMSP, an alumni association that connects grads of our high performing youth development efforts like Step Up, College Possible and Project Success with each other, and the HR departments of our best companies.

And it means partnering more with the public sector, like funding of community engagement during the transition to a new mayor and city council. And just last night, I was at the Park Board meeting to announce we will help fund the search for a new superintendent because American’s Number One Park System deserves America’s very best parks superintendent.

There is a lot going on at the Minneapolis Foundation, but I think what we do can best be described in one simple sentence: “We build relationships to build assets to build impact. “

We build relationships with donors. We help donors build relationships with each other and with the people and organizations working in the community we serve. We build the assets donors invest at the Foundation and help good organizations build assets that make it possible to do great things.

Relationships. Assets. Impact. All three are important. But they are not equal.

We are not here to amass money. We are here to put it to work to have a positive impact on lives. After a record year for fundraising, The Minneapolis Foundation has more available resources than ever before. That raises the pressure on all of us — our staff and our donors — to make an unparalleled year for fundraising an unparalleled year for community impact.

That is why the Minneapolis Foundation will invest $2 million, and invite our donors to invest more, in two contributions from our donors in two ways:

First, we will invest $1 million in InvestMPLS, which enables new and existing Donor Advised Funds to nurture small businesses, foster school excellence and more by making hyper-local impact investments in partnership with The Minneapolis Foundation.

Second, we will pool our discretionary funds, along with an additional $1 million over the next two year, into our new OneMPLS Fund. We will invite donors to make contributions to the OneMPLS Fund, which will be invested in high-performing non-profits and innovative initiatives that advance social, racial and economic equity. Most investments will be awarded through a competitive process, open to all eligible nonprofit organizations and managed by our Community Innovation team, which is led by Chanda Smith Baker.

This Giving Community has given so much, but we believe we can give more. Together, we’ve made significant investments to address the enormous and unacceptable gaps in our community, but we believe we can do even more. We believe our community can be a place where every child has the same opportunity to succeed regardless of where they live, their parents’ income, or the color of their skin. We can and will do more to make sure the story of our community is no longer a tale of two cities, but instead a story of OneMinneapolis.