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Responsive Philanthropy Finalists

The Mission Award for Responsive Philanthropy recognizes the partnership between funders and nonprofits in mobilizing resources for public benefit. Nominated organizations should:

  • Be responsive to citizen initiatives;
  • Recognize public policy issues and long-term strategies to fight problems; and
  • Commit substantial resources to disadvantaged people and Minnesota communities through a process of dialogue and partnership.

Voting has closed for the 2023 Mission Awards. Thank you! 

2023 Responsive Philanthropy Logo

2023 Responsive Philanthropy Finalists:

Blandin Foundation  |  Initiative Foundation  |  Tiwahe Foundation

Blandin Foundation - Grand Marais Letteracy

StoryScouts at Minnesota Children’s Press in Grand Marais, supported in part by a Leadership Boost Grant. Photo courtesy Anne Brataas

Founded in 1941, Blandin Foundation supports rural communities throughout Minnesota, empowering them to address injustice, promote diversity, and embrace sustainability and equity. Today the foundation serves their home giving area in the Itasca County area of north-central Minnesota and communities of 20,000 or less across rural Minnesota.   

As one of the few private foundations in the nation devoted exclusively to rural needs, and located in rural, the foundation has continually shifted its strategic focus to better meet rural Minnesota’s urgent challenges.

Rural Minnesota has changed dramatically in the last 30 years and needs our best efforts more than ever to address funding disparities, demographic shifts and energy transitions. Pandemic and racial turmoil accelerated economic and social disparities that originally inspired the foundation’s collective passion for rural philanthropy.

In April 2022, Blandin Foundation launched the Leadership Boost Grants (LBG) program to encourage Minnesotans living in rural and Native communities to be visionary and creative as they move their communities forward to meet the moment’s challenges and support local vision for growth. From an initial pool of more than 300 letters of interest invited from Blandin Foundation leadership and broadband program alumni, the Foundation awarded 90 grants in three grant rounds: 

  • 26 Community Planning grants totaled $1.35 million and focused on people-to-people connections for discussions to set community vision, make communities more welcoming and inclusive, and pursue other development efforts. 
  • 32 Capital Projects grants, designed for towns of under 3,000 people, totaled $2 million for buildings, equipment and infrastructure, including kitchen and playground equipment, skate parks, assisted living facilities, senior and youth centers and more. 
  • 32 Creative Placemaking grants totaled $2 million and supported community planning, engagement, and arts and culture activities ranging from tourism to downtown revitalization, Tribal culture, food initiatives and mental health supports.   

Community impacts ranged from small capital improvements – a new stove for a community center – to support for community events, to community visioning for health, wellness, welcoming, and addressing historical trauma.

LBGs were an opportunity for Blandin Foundation to listen deeply to communities’ most pressing needs and aspirations following more than two years of acute isolation, stress and trauma. The LOI response — $24 million — starkly illustrated the breadth and depth of need. The total amount of funding available increased from $1 million to $5.5 million after Blandin Foundation’s board approved an additional $3 million and a $1.5 million grant was secured from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies.  Funding reached  rural Minnesota communities  like Milroy (pop. 297), Stephen (pop. 583) and Sebeka (pop. 741). Several communities are in counties with some of the state’s highest poverty rates and lowest access to public infrastructure. For some, it’s likely LBG is the first-ever philanthropic funding the community has received.

The LBG process also has spurred Blandin Foundation to test new grantmaking strategies, such as refreshed criteria and rubrics that help direct funding to Minnesota’s smallest communities. Shifts like these move Blandin Foundation toward becoming the type of foundation Charles Blandin intended, supporting rural organizations “just enough” so they are strong, adaptable, and ready to serve community needs for the long haul. This shift also moves communities and the Foundation closer to the Foundation’s vision: Rural Minnesota places that welcome diversity, address injustice and embrace change to create a sustainable and equitable future.

Initiative Foundation photo - Homeless HelpingHomeless

Shelter operators Mary and Harold Fleegel are using Initiative Foundation funding to enhance security and dignity for clients at Lincoln Center, a Homeless Helping Homeless shelter in east St. Cloud.

The Initiative Foundation serves the 14 counties and two sovereign Native nations of Central Minnesota. Based in Little Falls, the Foundation exists to improve the quality of life and to build stronger communities in Central Minnesota by offering nonprofit grants, business loans, leadership training, and donor services through its Partner Funds programs. Since 1986, the Initiative Foundation and its Partner Funds have invested multiple millions in the region through targeted grants and business financing investments.

St. Cloud-based Homeless Helping Homeless was founded on the belief that the homeless can do a lot for themselves. They just need the resources and contacts to make it happen.

In 2022, Homeless Helping Homeless was one of 15 Central Minnesota nonprofits to receive a grant through the Initiative Foundation’s $1 million-plus Transformative Funding for Nonprofits* program. They are now well on their way to creating secure and dignified quarters for people who seek services at their east St. Cloud shelter. And they’re getting some help along the way to maximize their $100,000 award: St. Cloud Technical and Community College construction students are partnering in the effort— building and learning as they go—to bring the project to completion.

The Initiative Foundation’s Transformative Funding for Nonprofits effort presented a unique opportunity for Central Minnesota nonprofits to pitch their big and bold ideas for community-enriching projects. The goal was to help nonprofits rebuild and refine their services, fill gaps exposed by the pandemic, and to meet growing demand.

The grantmaking initiative—a quadrupling of the Initiative Foundations typical annual grantmaking—also presented an opportunity to employ trust-based philanthropy practices. Rather than ask nonprofits to conform to rigid program parameters, the Initiative Foundation took a responsive approach. The program was intentionally designed to give nonprofits the necessary latitude to request funding for projects deemed high priorities in their communities.

The only requirements: The projects needed to add meaningful value and be sustainable into the future.

To help invited applicants on their journey, the Initiative Foundation underwrote the cost of professional consultants to refine the projects nonprofits outlined in their initial letters of inquiry. Consultants were tasked with guiding applicants and ensuring that their plans were impactful and achievable.

The following are just some of the initiatives under way as a result of the Transformative Funding for Nonprofits program:     

  • Leech Lake Boys & Girls Club is building an Indigenous, youth-led business program.
  • Anishinabe Legal Services is adding a Leech Lake Nation housing justice program.
  • Habitat for Humanity is building up to five new Leech Lake Nation homes.
  • Higher Works Collaborative has created the Martin Luther King Jr. Learning Center in St. Cloud.
  • New Pathways is launching a campaign to create a homeless shelter in the Cambridge area.
  • Hands of Hope has doubled the number of Spanish-speaking domestic violence survivors served in rural Long Prairie.

Awardees have anywhere from one to three years to close out their grant reports—another responsive quaility that sidesteps a one-size-fits-all approach commonly experienced by grant-seekers.

“For a small program like ours, the $100,000 award we received from Initiative Foundation was incredible and truly transformative,” said Cody Nelson, executive director of Anishinabe Legal Services in Cass Lake. “And by pairing us with an outside consultant to improve our implementation plans and statement of need, it improved our likelihood of securing additional outside funding for this project.”

* Transformative Funding for Nonprofits was supported by a generous grant from the Otto Bremer Trust.


Tiwahe Foundation staff attending the 2023 Dakota and Ojibwe Languages Symposium.

Tiwahe (ti-wah-hay) means family in Dakota and symbolizes the interconnectedness we all have and one’s responsibility to protect and care for family, community, and environment. As a recent Tiwahe grantee said, “Tiwahe means having a relative wherever you go.” Since 2009, Tiwahe Foundation has filled a unique role among Native organizations in Minnesota. Because they are the only Native community foundation in Minnesota, Tiwahe has singularly engaged and supported thousands of diverse Native leaders, deepening their understanding of the ever-evolving needs and trends within Native communities in Minnesota. 

Tiwahe challenges systemic barriers, caused by settler colonialism, to the goals Native people pursue. The dominant culture approach to philanthropy is one of those barriers. Tiwahe offers a new model for philanthropy that centers Native voices and values in every decision from planning through evaluation, and helps other organizations let go of dominant culture practices that hold them back.  

Tiwahe Foundation’s American Indian Family Empowerment Program (AIFEP) program serves Native peoples living in Minnesota by providing direct access to microgrants that help bridge systemic disparity gaps in four key program areas: Health and Wellness, Education, Culture and Language, and Economic Independence. AIFEP fills a gap left by dominant philanthropy, which rarely makes direct microgrants to Native individuals or families (they focus on other Native non-profits or larger grants). And, even in those spaces, their giving is less than 0.4 percent of their dollars to Native communities.

Tiwahe's Oyate Leadership Network (OLN) is being revitalized to respond to the many widespread requests to do more as a keystone organization for Native leadership within Minnesota and help establish what “Indigenous Leadership” means within Native communities, creating avenues to reconnect or deepen cultural practices and traditional teachings. OLN is being recreated within a framework that starts with Native definitions and practices of leadership—not adapting those from dominant culture.

Tiwahe’s Wisdom Council are some of its earliest founders who actively center Native cultural practices and voices in program design. The Wisdom Council gathers in alignment with equinoxes and solstices to hold sacred spaces for sharing teachings and how to maintain strong reciprocal ties to community. This intentional return to a culturally centered approach catalyzed a fourfold increase in the number of AIFEP grant awards Tiwahe now delivers.

Tiwahe welcomes grant applicants into an active and growing community of alumni, entrepreneurs, Native language practitioners, and wisdom-keepers, creating connections to other resources and amplifying grantees’ businesses, services, and talents. They do this with a modest endowment for AIFEP and active fundraising that begins with their own community members.

Tiwahe’s newly designed Indigenous evaluation practices further ensure that they are using the community’s desired outcomes as the basis for their programming and grantmaking and ensure they nurture continuous community feedback loops - important as the needs of Native communities, like any other, are always evolving.

The skyrocketing community enthusiasm for AIFEP grants means more Native people in Minnesota are empowered and inspired to take personal action to define Indigenous leadership on their own terms and to develop innovative ways to preserve, revitalize, and share Indigenous culture and language through the generations.