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“Support for innovation is hip and cool in philanthropy these days,” Dorfman said. “But there’s a wide variation in what foundations mean by it. You need to look at, ‘Who are they awarding grants to, and for what?’ ”
In Bush’s case, new “community innovation grants” have been sent to causes such as a Minneapolis neighborhood group that hosts outdoor “pop-up parties” to connect residents; a plan to make farmland available to new and young farmers and connect them to co-ops, and a feasibility study for creating a community arts center in St. Paul’s Lowertown district.
The recent Guthrie networking extravaganza also points to Bush’s growing focus on encouraging nonprofits to collaborate and come up with new ideas. For some folks who attended the event, BushConnect met its mission.
“So far I’ve met two people I need to connect with — that I didn’t know I needed to connect with — just by chance,” said John Turnipseed, director of the Center for Fathering at Urban Ventures in Minneapolis.
New brand for ‘b’
Folks at the event were given a swag bag that showed other aspects of the evolution within Bush, including a glossy new “b” magazine — part of a rebranding effort. A new website is also underway.
Meanwhile, a Bush Prize for Community Innovation created last year will give one lucky nonprofit up to 25 percent of its operating budget to spend as it pleases.
Juxtaposition Arts of Minneapolis was among the first Bush Prize recipients. The north Minneapolis arts organization runs a visual arts training program for youths, which it uses to carry out real-world contracts for everything from printing T-shirts to posters.
“There aren’t many grants that say, ‘Bravo! Good work,’ ” said DeAnna Cummings, its executive director.
The prize will fund “creative community engagement,” she said, including working with several groups to launch teen-conducted surveys to learn what people like about their community.
Veteran Twin Cities philanthropy consultant Steve Paprocki sees some trade-offs with the new approach. While collaboration, innovation and networking are laudable goals, it means that money that could support specific needs in the community is going elsewhere.
It leads, he said, to questions such as: Is $1 million better spent on collaboration or on a job training program?
But Reedy notes that the role of a foundation is to find new solutions to community issues. Those solutions must come from the ground up, and that is what these new grants are doing. She eagerly awaits the results.
“We have put in place all the key components, and now our emphasis will be on making an impact greater than the sum of our parts.”
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511