This article was written by MCN's Lenny Jones, development manager; Kelly LaCore, Greater Minnesota & Northeast Minnesota regional manager; Jes Wysong, Southern Minnesota regional coordinator; and originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of Nonprofit News: Centering Equity. Read the full issue.
Greater Minnesota and rural Minnesota nonprofits frequently express feeling disconnected from the seven-county Metro as it relates to the unique issues they face, including low population density, cultural shifts, limited resources, and extensive geographical span. MCN deliberately works to ensure inclusion, increase awareness, and support Greater Minnesota organizations and concerns by employing regional coordinators based outside of the Twin Cities.
Regional coordinators engage in regular conversation with our members; the following is a snapshot of three challenges staff have been hearing that Greater Minnesota nonprofits are facing.
The ongoing “Great Resignation” discussion has particular resonance for Greater Minnesota nonprofits, many of which have long struggled to attract and retain qualified staff. Compensation in the form of living-wage pay and benefit packages is too often beyond the reach of nonprofits operating in rural or remote regions. Executive directors, finance managers, and development professionals are particularly difficult to recruit, leading not only to staffing gaps but also to agency destabilization if long-term employees leave or leadership positions undergo rapid and repeated turnover. “I talked to a nonprofit in the Brainerd area who has had three executive directors in five years and multiple changes in programmatic leadership,” says MCN’s Jes Wysong. “A concern is losing funding because folks are not clear on expectations of their current funding.”
Many Greater Minnesota nonprofits operate on small agency budgets reliant on grants from the same few regional funders, which can create an environment of competition between organizations that might otherwise join forces to meet shared community needs. Several members of MCN’s Regional Advisory Committee
mentioned their desire to diversify fundraising beyond relationships with local area foundations and entities such as United Way, but find themselves lacking the time to delve into individual giving efforts or submit proposals for state and federal funding, or lack the organizational capacity to expand fundraising efforts and meet government-funding reporting and evaluation requirements.
Technological capacity is also a complication, with many organizations unable to upgrade data collection or financial management tools due to lack of unrestricted funds. Hiring and retention of administrative staff – particularly development, finance, and human resources professionals – is an ongoing concern. These positions are most often paid out of the same general operations funds as rent, building maintenance, and other essential costs of agency functioning.
Population Density vs. Community Needs
Underpinning these challenges is the issue of serving communities that, while low in number, may experience complicated intersectional needs, at the same time running an organization that flies under the radar of funders and other resource allocators. Another Regional Advisory Committee member shared how their nonprofit was struggling to fund a much-needed shelter project that would provide 20-25 vulnerable adults and families with safe transitional lodging in a former hotel. Despite the obvious need in a region with very few housing resources for residents experiencing homelessness or fleeing domestic violence, the fact that their shelter would serve a small number of people has proven to be a barrier to securing funding necessary to purchase the hotel.
Other committee members spoke of challenges in meeting funder definitions of “under-served populations” in RFPs meant to address equity issues in nonprofit grantmaking throughout Minnesota, but are not written to include sparsely populated, remote, and/or rural communities. This is a particular frustration for multi-service nonprofits serving individuals and families whose challenges may be further complicated by social isolation and lack of quality affordable housing, living-wage employment, reliable transportation, and access to basic amenities such as full-service grocery stores and pharmacies.
MCN is dedicated to amplifying the voices of Greater Minnesota through our programming, research, public policy, and beyond. We frequently stop to ask ourselves if we are doing all we can to honor MCN’s mission, “to inform, promote, connect, and strengthen individual nonprofits and the nonprofit sector.” You, our members and readers, are our greatest resource and we welcome your ideas and feedback. Please contact Kelly LaCore, Greater Minnesota and Northeast regional manager