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Community spirit thrives in Minnesota

  • Article by: SUSAN STEHLING
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 6, 2012 - 10:33 AM

The 2011 Camelot Index, a widely accepted measure of quality of life, ranks Minnesota fifth in the nation. To rank highly, a state must have high income, low poverty rates, healthy individuals, a well-educated population, high-quality and affordable education, low crime rates, committed citizens and well-managed government.

Minnesota's rank is impressive, but disparities are emerging as the state's population continues to grow, diversify and age. According to Wilder Research, from 2000 to 2010 the state's population of color grew by 55 percent, and by 2030, the number of residents over age 65 is expected to almost double to one fifth of the population.

Without the generosity of individuals and philanthropists of all types, Camelot may be but a distant dream for some residents. In 2010, 12 percent of Minnesotans lived in poverty (defined as an annual income of $22,000 or less for a family of four). The tough economy, which affected everyone, hit people of color especially hard. The proportion of Minnesota's adults working in 2011 varied significantly by race, ranging from 79 percent for whites to 59 percent for African-Americans and 54 percent for Native Americans. Minnesota's 20-percentage-point gap between whites and African-Americans was the largest in the U.S.

How can all of our state's residents continue to thrive? Minnesota nonprofits, foundations and corporate giving programs are focused on that question every day -- each working to ensure that the basic needs of all residents are met, that everyone has equal access to educational and economic opportunities, and that local communities are vital, healthy places.

Grantmakers of all types -- but especially community foundations -- make Minnesota communities better places to live, work and play. They do this by improving quality of life, by investing in new and growing businesses, and welcoming and serving all state residents, especially the state's diverse newcomers.

Minnesota has 88 community and other public foundations located throughout the state. Each defines its mission differently, but their essence is fostering philanthropy to improve quality of life. They are publicly supported organizations operated by and for the benefit of a specific community or population, area of interest or geographic area. They use endowed and other funds to build partnerships and tackle tough community problems.

Community/public foundations work actively on myriad projects. For example, The Minneapolis Foundation -- minneapolisfoundation.org -- has three strategies for community impact, one of which is transforming education to close persistent achievement gaps in the city. Annually the foundation works with hundreds of local partners and funds organizations working to make a difference in education and thus in the lives of children and families.

The Women's Foundation of Minnesota, the nation's first statewide women's foundation, works for equality for all Minnesota women and girls --and with it, stronger communities and a stronger Minnesota. The foundation provides resources for women and girls to break down local barriers to equality (wfmn.org).

The six Minnesota Initiative Foundations -- in Bemidji, Duluth, Fergus Falls, Hutchinson, Little Falls and Owatonna -- work to strengthen their regions' communities and economies. Created by The McKnight Foundation in 1986, the Minnesota Initiative Foundations have since given nonprofits 19,360 grants totaling $120.4 million, made 3,410 business loans totaling $174.5 million, and created or secured 37,420 jobs (greaterminnesota.net).

Individuals give to community foundations for many reasons, but they often mention that giving to a community foundation is an easy way to essentially give back to many charitable organizations at once. Donor-advised funds (and other charitable giving vehicles) at community foundations are relatively easy to establish and administer.

Philanthropy is not just for the very rich. Between 2012 and 2030, an entire generation of Baby Boomers will reach retirement age and beyond. In addition to passing wealth along to family members, Minnesotans with a wide range of asset levels will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gift a portion of their wealth to the hometown causes about which they care the most. The ultimate beneficiaries of these and other charitable gifts are, in essence, the donors' next-door neighbors -- the local communities and charitable organizations that receive financial support.

It's a given that Minnesota's demographics will change and that challenges of all types will continually need to be addressed. It's also a given that the state's grantmakers and individual donors are working to do everything possible to build strong communities for all residents.

Susan Stehling is Communications Associate with the Minnesota Council on Foundations (www.mcf.org).

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