The death of George Floyd has mobilized Minnesota philanthropists and funders into action like never before.
Charitable foundations have traditionally issued statements condemning racism after police have shot and killed Black Minnesotans. But “in years past, that’s sort of where it ended,” said Pahoua Yang Hoffman.
“Foundations ... and corporate entities were really being called out by the community, and I think rightfully so,” said Yang Hoffman, senior vice president of community impact at the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation.
“What we’re seeing now — a call and an increase in generosity in ways we haven’t seen — is completely connected to George Floyd himself, the killing but also the increasing momentum of Black Lives Matter.”
Across Minnesota, institutions have boosted racial justice funding after the death of Floyd, 46, at the hands of Minneapolis police in May sparked international outrage and calls for change. Across the state, foundations and corporations have distributed millions of dollars to organizations to address community healing, racial inequities and policy changes.
But they’re doing more than just handing out more money. Many are looking internally at how they can reform philanthropy, both by distributing grants more inclusively and by increasing diversity among staff and board members.
“I think the death and the video of George Floyd activated so many people — including philanthropy — in new ways,” said Chanda Smith Baker, senior vice president of impact at the Minneapolis Foundation. “Philanthropy is not the only sector that’s stepped up. ... It’s business, it’s community, it’s government — there are all these pieces that are responding in new ways and I’m greatly looking forward to new solutions that will emerge.”
Minnesota is grappling with colliding crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, the ensuing economic crisis and the racial reckoning after Floyd’s death. Foundations and nonprofits have also bolstered resources for COVID-19 and rebuilding businesses damaged in the civil unrest. In fact, a majority of foundations surveyed by the Minnesota Council on Foundations expanded giving this year from what was planned, and expect to give more in 2021 to nonprofits led by people of color and Black and Indigenous leaders.
The Minneapolis-based Headwaters Foundation for Justice is looking at short- and long-term needs to support both rebuilding businesses and pushing for racial justice. Target Corp. has pledged $10 million to social justice organizations. And U.S. Bank dedicated $5 million for local organizations rebuilding and addressing trauma.
“There has been a newfound commitment to racial equity and racial justice like I’ve never seen before,” said Susan Bass Roberts, executive director of the Pohlad Family Foundation, which has vowed to put $25 million toward racial justice. “It is putting a mirror up to ourselves and asking ourselves what does it really mean to embrace racial justice, and looking at our practices and policies.”
The Pohlad foundation, which has focused on homelessness, has pivoted to address racial disparities among homeless Minnesotans, and for the first time has invited community members to make grant decisions instead of just relying on board members.
In September, in response to Floyd’s death, the Minneapolis Foundation doled out an extra $500,000 to groups focused on healing and addressing systemic inequities. The funding, which followed other grants for rebuilding and for businesses owned by Black and Indigenous leaders or other people of color, came from a fund established in 2018 to address and prevent violence.
One of the 40 groups that received a grant is Northside Boxing Club, which dozens of north Minneapolis kids and teens visit each day for a meal and a workout. It’s not just about boxing, but a safe place for social/emotional support, where young people can talk through the pain and anger after another Black American’s death has horrified the nation.
“When someone falls down, we pick them up,” said Ryan Burnet, the restaurateur who started the nonprofit club in 2015. Burnet plans to expand distance-learning opportunities for students there, and to teach important subjects such as financial literacy.
The Minneapolis Foundation also teamed up with the Greater Twin Cities United Way and the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation on a new initiative to reform the criminal justice system.
Since March, United Way has awarded $2.4 million as part of its COVID-19 grants. It recently announced $250,000 in grants to make food access in north Minneapolis more equitable for low-income immigrants, refugees and people of color — from urban gardens to mobile markets.
Just days after Floyd died, the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation awarded $100,000 to heal racial trauma, helping the St. Louis Park-based African American Leadership Forum (AALF) boost mental health with everything from virtual therapy sessions to in-person Zumba classes.
“I think this is something community organizations have been asking for for years,” said Marcus Owens, the executive director of AALF, of the increased flexible funding. He added that philanthropy needs to use community feedback to drive grant decisions, not force nonprofits to tailor their work to meet grant requirements.
In fact, the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation is simplifying its grant applications to reduce barriers and fund general operations, not specific projects, making grant funding more flexible. Yang Hoffman said the foundation is also recruiting employees new to philanthropy to diversify staffing and redistribute power.
The foundation is one of more than 20 organizations that have backed a new coalition to reform philanthropy, denounce racism and raise $25 million for Black-led nonprofits and advocacy groups. The Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness & Realize Racial Justice, unveiled in July, is led by Smith Baker of the Minneapolis Foundation, Lulete Mola at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and Repa Mekha at Nexus Community Partners.
The Women’s Foundation has also shifted funding to focus more on nonprofits doing racial-justice work. But the organization is also making long-term changes — adding more people of color to its board and planning to launch a racial justice initiative in 2021.
“There is a renewed sense of energy; foundations in particular are feeling a responsibility to more directly address racial justice,” said Gloria Perez, the recently appointed first woman-of-color CEO at the Women’s Foundation. “We need to really double down.”