About 700 leaders of Minnesota's nonprofit and philanthropic communities gathered last week for the annual meeting of the United Front -- a campaign to promote collective solutions to the Twin Cities' most pressing problems.

The campaign was launched three years ago when the Greater Twin Cities United Way convened nonprofit leaders to drill home a sobering message, namely "that the world is changing dramatically, government funding is reducing, and nonprofits will have to make significant changes,'' said Frank Forsberg, a senior vice president at United Way.

"We were at the beginning of the economic downturn,'' said Forsberg, "and I think nonprofits were in denial about how deep the recession would be and how significant the financial impacts would be.''

Since then, the buzz words "new normal'' have been used to describe this shift. United Front has been encouraging nonprofits to merge and/or share resources, and to work collectively to address problems with hunger, health and education.

The goal is to create efficiencies and coordination among agencies so they can best support Twin Cities residents buffeted by growing poverty and the economic downturn.

The United Way now has created a nonprofit merger fund, supporting the merger of more than 20 nonprofit over the past three years, Forsberg said.

It also has funded new "collective impact models,'' such as the Twin Cities Hunger Initiative and the Minnesota Coalition to End Violence.

"We try to use these gatherings to challenge and energize nonprofit leaders,'' said Forsberg, referring to the packed house that gathered at St. Paul's RiverCentre last week.

"We try to provide them with the most current information about what we think the future economic environment will be,'' said Forsberg, "and then inspire them to make the difficult choices to move forward in this environment.''

For more information, go to unitedfrontmn.org.

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511