Foundation group continues Minnesota leadership on giving.
When you write that check for flood relief to a foundation or learn that your company gives to the arts, you want the money to be used well. More than ever, donors rightly want accountability from foundations and other nonprofits that handle billions of charitable dollars every year.
In that area, Minnesota stands out. To their credit, local grantmakers here have been and continue to be leaders on philanthropic ethics and transparency.
Ten years ago, the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF) became the first U.S. regional group to require its members to subscribe to a set of principles for giving. Recently, the organization updated and revised those principles to reflect changes in giving and in laws governing philanthropy.
In its "Principles for Grantmakers," the group offers eight general areas that should guide foundation operations. It suggests that nonprofits adhere to high ethical standards and practices and have clearly stated goals and missions. The principles list also cites the importance of diversity, respectful communications and accountability and transparency in all operations.
The MCF is a regional membership association of grantmakers. Of the nearly 1,400 active foundations and corporate giving programs in the state, 176 -- most larger programs -- are MCF members. About 86 percent of the groups are family or other private foundations; fewer than 10 percent of the grantmakers award more than 80 percent of Minnesota grant dollars.
In other words, many individuals and smaller groups give, often without staffs or the resources to keep up with sound practices and legal requirements. To assist them, MCF makes their publications and other support services available to all nonprofits -- whether or not they are members of the council.
MCF officials acknowledge that Minnesota has had a handful of "bad actors" over the years; a few that have used funds improperly or experienced conflict-of-interest issues between trustees and grant recipients. Many of those missteps occur due to ignorance about regulations rather than malice or purposeful fraud. But in cases were there has been wrongdoing, MCF has worked with the attorney general's office to correct problems and identify offenders. They understand that grantmakers are and should be scrutinized carefully. Even one case of impropriety can reflect badly on the industry and erode public trust in charitable giving overall.
That is why MCF should be commended for its leadership in providing thoughtful, updated guidance to those who give.