Fifteen years after its founding, the Woodbury Community Foundation is positioning itself to better serve the future needs of Minnesota’s ninth largest city.
At the helm is Lori Nelson, the organization’s first full-time executive director and only staff member. After drafting its most complete strategic plan to date in 2016, the foundation hired Nelson and set its sights on bolstering its presence in the community.
Over the past few months, foundation officials have established the organization’s first endowment fund, launched a membership program and issued grants for the first time in years.
“It’s been a transition time and I feel like we are now really ready to start moving forward,” Nelson said. “We are only going to grow.”
Since the foundation’s start in 2003, Woodbury’s population has grown more than 40 percent, from slightly more than 49,000 to nearly 70,000 residents.
Through partnerships with the city and listening sessions with area nonprofits, the foundation’s goal is to keep a finger on the pulse of rising and unmet needs in the community.
Expanding the foundation, however, will require a boost in its visibility, according to city and organization leaders.
“For a long time, people didn’t know our role,” said Dixie Ewing, one of the nonprofit’s founders and a board member. “We were just in the background.”
The need for stronger community awareness of the foundation’s mission became clear this fall, when a website claiming to be a branch of the nonprofit endorsed local candidates. The fake website was called “Woodbury Thrives” — the same name as that of the foundation’s wellness initiative — and used a similar logo.
The nonprofit fought the imitator, whose site has since been taken down. The Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings ruled that the creators of the site, 4MN Inc., had violated campaign laws and fined the group $2,400.
Since Nelson began her job in July 2017, the foundation has become a more recognizable presence in the community, Ewing said.
The next challenge, she said, is to help Woodbury residents understand how they can bolster the foundation by becoming a member, creating a project fund or contributing to its general endowment, which was established in November.
The foundation recently awarded grants to four local organizations with programs serving youth and addressing issues of hunger, safety and housing — all initiatives that the nonprofit’s founders had chosen as priorities more than a decade ago.
Former Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, a member of the foundation’s board, said she’s confident that the nonprofit is headed in the right direction.
“From the beginning, the foundation has always had a great mission,” she said. “Now it really has the ability to move forward in a new way.”
Though it’s taken years and a bit of a cultural shift, Ewing said the Woodbury Community Foundation has realized the dream that its founders held for it.
“This is what we wanted all those years ago,” she said. Now, with the city’s growth, she said, “the needs are greater and there are more opportunities for us to help.”