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 for the 2022 Minnesota Nonprofit Mission Awards has closed. 

Innovation Award

BLACF - YMCA Day Camp

YMCA Day Camp established for essential workers without child care options when schools closed in Brainerd due to COVID-19.

Established in 1998, the mission of Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation (BLACF), an affilate partner of CommunityGiving, is to engage people, connect resources and build community. The foundation is all about helping generous people change lives and communities through philanthropy.     

BLACF serves Crow Wing and southern Cass Counties, with recent giving priorities centering around developing, attracting, and retaining a quality workforce. Their grants support programs that work with local youth who tend to stick around the community after graduation. They are often the most at-risk and will make up much of the future local workforce.

BLACF recognizes public policy issues and long-term strategies, being prepared to address those issues through grants and convening. When COVID-19 struck, BLACF made a quick focus shift, raising and redistributing over $120,000 to address needs caused by the pandemic, including an emergency grant to the YMCA to open a Day Camp for essential workers the day schools closed in Brainerd. The statewide schools closing was announced by Governor Walz on a Sunday morning, and by that afternoon, the BLACF Board had approved by email, a $15,000 grant so the Day Camp could be open the next day. 

BLACF’s support for My Neighbor to Love Coalition (MNTLC), homes for the homeless initiative was brought to their attention during a community-wide convening to address homelessness. Because of funding cuts the only option, Interfaith Caregivers, had discontinued services. Discussions around both short- and longer-term solutions were held. Bridges of Hope, a local faith-based nonprofit (that has an Agency Fund with BLACF) took the lead on a short-term solution (supported with a BLACF grant) leading to the opening of a Warming Center this winter that operates between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., November through March.

While the Warming Center addressed an immediate need, it was somewhat of a “band-aid” for the issue of homelessness, and doesn’t do anything to change conditions “up-stream.” That is where Vicky Kinney and MNTLC stepped in and took the lead on the longer term solution, a village of small homes, that would provide stable homes for individuals and families that could be permanent as long as they follow the rules of tenancy.

The village is modeled after a project in Austin, TX, that provides housing, support services; such as mental health and chemical dependency counseling, support groups, and job training; and actual entrepreneurial micro-business startups, including on-site markets for grown or made products. Using a strength-based model, residents’ unique gifts and interests are uncovered, developed, and mentored to lead them to a greater sense of self-worth, self-dependency, and dignity.

In the foundation’s latest grant-making round, they awarded MNTLC a Difference-Maker grant of $25,000 (most grants are $15,000 or less). They also set up a meeting between Ms. Kinney and Congressman Stauber’s staff for inclusion in the next Federal Budget for significant Community-Based funding (earmark).   

Finally, in 2015, BLACF made a three-year grant to the City of Brainerd to complete planning and seek funding for a Mississsippi Riverfront Park. In the previous legislative session, $2.85M was approved from LCMR Funds to construct the Park. Ground was broken on June 6th and the park should be complete this year. This was another BLACF Difference-Maker Grant that will indeed, make a difference.

Mortenson art image

Painting by Ricardo Levins Morales, commissioned by the Mortenson Family Foundation through a partner engagement process.

In 1999, Alice and Mort Mortenson created the Mortenson Family Foundation as an expression of gratitude – for the privilege of living and working in a vital and vibrant community, and for the great joy their family brings to their lives. The foundation builds partnerships to strengthen community-driven approaches that advance equity, opportunity, and sustainable systems. To do so, they partner with organizations working in the following areas: 

  • Expanding Opportunities for Children and Families
  • Sustaining Environmental Systems
  • Strengthening Developing Community

In April 2020, based on grant partners’ feedback that there was significant need for support, the foundation’s board approved an additional $1 million COVID-19 Response grant budget. This was a 25 percent increase over its existing $4 million budget. Through dialogue and partnership, they provided the following program support:   

  • Expanding Opportunities: Because many partners needed immediate flexible financial support, they distributed 35 percent of the foundation’s special grant budget to the smallest budgeted partners with limited financial cushion within 45 days of partner conversations. An additional 10 percent of the special grant budget went to intermediate-term support based on organizational needs within 120 days.  
  • International: While COVID was slower in spreading to many of the International communities, almost all of the International partners were drawing on existing resources to address the urgent, immediate need for aggressive prevention.  Within 120 days, the Foundation distributed 12.5% of the special grant budget across all partners, with 80% going to the partners that did the most comprehensive work. An additional 7.5% was allocated to partners based on response and recovery activity.  
  • Environmental: Partners felt financially secure in the short-term. They requested intermediate-term support that could be used as matching grants. Within 90 days, the Foundation distributed 7.5 percent of the foundation’s special grant budget, based on organizations with the greatest cash flow needs and least amount of reserves and endowments.

In addition to the COVID response and in response to George Floyd’s murder, the foundation’s board approved $3 million dollars that was above the regular funding and made a commitment to eight racial equity actions including continuing to increase the percentage of grant dollars to organizations led by and for communities of color, continuing to increase the amount of grant dollars going to systems change efforts and engaging community members in all grantmaking committees.   

Between 2021 and 2022, based on community learning, the foundation used $600,000 of the special grant budget to support six cultural Community Development Financial Institutions with three-year unrestricted grants and a combined $1 million investment. Additionally, they provided $2.4 million in grants to entities that are by and for community to create (or continue implementing) a community participatory process to distribute grants within community.

In 2021, in addition to the special grants, the Foundation made 187 grants totaling $4.7 million to grant partners through its regular grant cycle that span from emerging work to legacy organizations. Through surveys, 88 percent of partners shared they have received value beyond the grant from the Foundation.

Philanthropy often demands nonprofit accountability with no promise of accountability in return. As part of the Foundation’s commitment to equity, the Foundation engages its partners in decision-making, sets firm commitments, and continues to share updates and learnings on those commitments.   

Significant work is needed to end racism and create equitable systems. By building strong partnerships with nonprofits and centering community voice, everyone can benefit from the assets of every Minnesota community.

Northland - Cloquet Mural Carla Kitto 2021

Cloquet Mural Project led by Carla Kitto to create Indigenous community murals in educational spaces.

The Northland Foundation is a publicly supported foundation serving a region that includes seven Northeast Minnesota counties: Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, and St. Louis, and five Native nations: Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (District I), and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe (District II). Its mission is to invest in people and communities to support a thriving region.   

The foundation recognizes that the Indigenous land that today we work and live on generated tremendous wealth and resources at the expense of Native nations and the roots of disparities experienced by Indigenous community are directly linked to the numerous attempts to disrupt Indigenous communities and threaten their survival. Yet, Indigenous people carry the skills and knowledge to both survive and thrive and we have a great deal to learn from Indigenous community solutions. In this spirit, the Maada’ookiing Initiative came to life. Maada’ookiing (“distribution” in Ojibwe) launched this year, after two years of planning, community engagement, and development.

The Northland Foundation started down this path several years ago, guided by a Board of Trustees directive to strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities and increase access to resources. Since then, grant funding to Indigenous-led entities increased from two percent to nine percent. Further demonstrating this commitment, Northland’s first COVID-19 emergency response funds were directed to Native nations recognizing the pandemic’s heavy impact on Native communities.   

Northland’s leadership team first met with Tribal Council leaders from the five Native nations to share the desire to work more closely together toward stronger partnerships and increased investments. Afterward, Northland hired an Indigenous consultant to create a Native-led design team and facilitate a process to learn in depth about community needs, both on and off reservation land. Native representatives, including Tribal Council leaders or appointed delegates along with urban and rural community leaders, were invited to share knowledge of Indigenous community strengths and ideas on how Northland could become a better partner while increasing resources to Native communities.   

From these collaborative sessions, Maada’ookiing took shape as an Indigenous-led initiative offering grassroots grants to individuals. In November 2020, a nine-member Maada’ookiing Board= representing the five Native nations as well as rural and urban community members, was convened to drive the initiative. The Maada’ookiing Board set the funding priority areas, provided direction on the grant program development, and has full decision-making power with Maada’ookiing grant funding.

Individuals can apply for up to $2,500 to implement community-focused projects. Since the grant program launched in May 2021, Northland has awarded 44 grants totalling over $108,000. Projects funded include efforts to preserve and share language, engage youth around cultural teachings, support sobriety using indigenous rooted events and more. The program is unique in Northeast Minnesota, and demand has been incredibly strong. Requests are considered by the Maada’ookiing board three times a year with deadlines in February, May, and September.

Northland Foundation has a longstanding practice of partnering with communities and operates from a guiding value that communities know best their needs, challenges, and solutions. Maada’ookiing, as an Indigenous-designed, Indigenous-led approach to philanthropy, is highly responsive. It demonstrates the effectiveness of listening, engaging, and co-creating with community.