The St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation is taking a new approach to funding nonprofits, one it hopes will give some longer-term stability to organizations.
For example, instead of having a nonprofit apply for a $50,000 grant each year, the foundation could give a one-time $500,000 loan that would be paid back with interest. The approach would benefit the foundation's investments "and actually have a bigger impact on the communities that they serve," said Casey Shultz, whom the foundation brought in to help build such programs.
After 15 years of leadership in technology, startups, entrepreneurship and venture capital organizations, Shultz in October took the newly created role of director of investor relations at the foundation. In the role, she will be reaching out to nonprofits, as well as local entrepreneurs and other potential investors.
The St. Paul & Minnesota Community Foundation is the state's largest such institution, overseeing $1.7 billion in combined charitable assets for individual donors, nonprofit endowments and partner foundations. The foundation and its partners gave $101 million in grants last year to organizations in 75 Minnesota counties.
Shultz came to the foundation after serving as executive director at Beta.MN, which helps founders of Minnesota startups scale their businesses to commercial enterprises.
Shultz's husband is a Minnesota native, and the two, along with their daughter, moved to St. Paul from California three years ago. Shultz, who has an MBA in sustainability from the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, has worked in wealth management in Alaska, where she grew up, and at CouchSurfing International, a precursor to Airbnb. She helped that Silicon Valley startup raise nearly $8 million and in all has helped new ventures raise more than $25 million.
Shultz talked about her new position and the foundation's philosophy on building sustainable communities. The discussion is edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why did you join the foundation?
A: I had the opportunity to meet Shannon O'Leary (the foundation's chief investment officer) when I moved to the Twin Cities three years ago. Hearing her approach to investing and how that's going to impact the community, and then the kinds of projects that she's trying to get off the ground, is what got me really excited to apply for the position. Another thing that really attracted me to the foundation is its public commitment to equity in the community, which is something I'm really passionate about.
Q: What the role of environmental, social and corporate governance issues, or ESG investing, at the foundation?
A: Any investment that we make, we want to make sure that it's not causing problems to our community that we're then trying to solve in grant-making, so it definitely encompasses ESG investments. Shannon's making sure that all the investments that we make actually are with a goal of benefiting the community. Socially responsible investing is the core of our investment ethos.
Q: How will that inform your work?
A: I will be looking for organizations that impact the community in a positive way. One of the things that we're working on right now is affordable housing, trying to create a new way of financing affordable housing that adds more affordable housing units to the market, long term.
Q: Why is building sustainable communities so important to you?
A: My interest in sustainable communities started when I was living in Venezuela as a teenager, from 1998 to 1999. My dad is in oil and gas so we were living there for his job. At the time, it was reported, Venezuela was the third richest country in the world, due to high oil prices. And it was obvious that 75% of Venezuelans live in extreme poverty. I remember thinking, it's not fair, how can 1% of the country's residents hold 99% of the country's wealth? That sparked my interest in how we reinvest in our communities. How do we make sure that especially with natural resources that they're being distributed in a fair and equitable way?
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is email@example.com.