Minnesota has a strong philanthropic network. A range from private donors to publicized foundations support collective action at the funding stage.
Some are independent family institutions. McKnight Foundation was created in 1953 by a founding leader of 3M and invests in areas ranging from climate to education, with about $88 million annually in grants. The Pohlad Family Foundation is focused on homelessness, affordable housing, and racial justice, with funds stemming from the business developed by former banking executive and Twins owner Carl Pohlad and, prior to 2020, had averaged annual giving of about $10 million.
Corporate foundations are among the state’s largest long-term grant-makers. Margaret A. Cargill, Target, and General Mills each have upwards of $100 million, although their annual grant offerings vary. According to GrantDomain, General Mills annually gives out $26 million; Target $9 million; Cargill $7 million.
Cargill aims at access to nutritious food and healthy eating habits and has invested millions in food and education in North Minneapolis, including funding to Appetite for Change and Urban Ventures.
EcoLab Foundation focuses on supporting global water issues, including protecting clean water in Minnesota. It is working with Nature Conservancy on an Urban Water Blueprint project that collects data on quality and risks with fresh water.
Medtronic has invested $17 million over five years to improve detection of heart disease and diabetes in underserved populations.
Community foundations share public and private funding. St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation was started in 1940 with a $5,000 gift from Annie Paper, born to Jewish-Lithuanian immigrants, and now has nearly $1.6 billion in assets, according to its website. Together with other donors, it made 8,300 grants in 71 of Minnesota’s 87 counties in 2019 and offers about $58 million annually.
In 2019 alone, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community provided $15 million in donations for education, youth, healthcare, community development, arts, and environmental protection.
Headwaters Foundation for Justice was created in 1984 by a group of donors that wanted people directly experiencing inequities to lead the efforts to make effective change. The Communities First Fund supports Black, Indigenous, and people of color individuals and organizations impacted by pandemic disparities. The Transformation Fund provides protestors and community members with funding related to holding officials accountable around law enforcement and has been offered to organizations involved in racial equity, with seed money from two donors of $2 million. [Find recipients here.]
Foundations sometimes collaborate to address specific community needs. United Way, Minneapolis Foundation, and St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation are teaming up on criminal justice reform and reconstruction efforts with the Twin Cities Rebuild for the Future Fund. Emergency support for micro- and minority-owned small businesses was distributed this summer in an invitation-only process, funded at $1.3 million for repairs, equipment, technology, building materials, and relocation expenses. Future work will include disrupting the school to prison pipeline, addressing bail disparities and sentencing inequities, and improving funding to re-entry programs.
The Minnesota Council on Foundations also announced that the Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness & Realize Racial Justice is a coalition of foundations and philanthropic organizations formed in response to the killing of George Floyd and will have $25 million for the Black-Led Movement Fund.
Some warn, however, that it is dangerous to rely so much on philanthropic organizations to support the basic needs of marginalized communities. On the one hand, non-profits that are deeply enmeshed in neighborhoods are often best poised to serve needs compared to public funding that comes from taxation. On the other hand, if tax structures were equitable, it might reduce the need for philanthropic largess.
Historically, many women — particularly women of color — do volunteer work around food security and other basic needs that are not compensated or acknowledged, compared to the work of those in many philanthropic organizations.
Naomi Klein, author of “No Is Not Enough,” indicates that we have been “looking to the billionaire class to solve the problems” that were formerly addressed “with collective action and a strong public sector.” Reducing public sector spending because of taxation limits, for example, reduces our ability to address systemic issues around racial equity, homelessness, climate change, healthcare and education gaps, and agricultural inefficiencies.
Another concern is that philanthropy tends to get public credit for funding short-term solutions, not long-term ones, and is not accountable to the public for the results. The process also can be market-driven, and not democratic, in determining how funds are spent. Decision makers might be more attuned to funders’ priorities rather than public needs.
Education reform writer Joanne Barkan has described the large, private philanthropic ventures — such as those by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — as problematic in three ways, despite doing good things: “They intervene in public life but aren’t accountable to the public; they are privately governed but publicly subsidized by being tax exempt; and in a country where money translates into political power, they reinforce the problem of plutocracy — the exercise of power derived from wealth.”
Steel industry tycoon Andrew Carnegie set up a founding foundation in 1911, with an endowment to the Carnegie Corporation of $125 million. He also established the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In 1913, John D. Rockefeller set up his foundation after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that his Standard Oil Company was an illegal monopoly and had to be broken up into smaller companies. He became the wealthiest man in the world, and the foundation saved him income and inheritance taxes.
As taxation became a stronger way of supporting public needs through government, more foundations were created to shelter the wealth in the hands of individuals like W.K. Kellogg and Henry Ford.
In an 80-page working paper titled “Philanthropic Power and Development: Who shapes the agenda?,” published by a German-based consortium, these questions were raised:
Another concern is that spending becomes concentrated on certain areas while others remain underfunded. According to 2012 data, the largest 1,000 U.S. foundations spent 37 percent of its international grants on projects in the health sector, 11 percent on environment projects, and 4 percent on projects in the field of human rights.
These funds are cited by the Minnesota Council on Foundations as strong community-based opportunities:
Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness & Realize Racial Justice Fund
Extensive list of community resources for donations, mental health, arts, construction, and more
Pandemic-related resources that needs support
See our Action = Change story on helping unsheltered veterans
Local Milkweed Books compiled a list of justice-oriented organizations its staff supported.
Minnesota’s top-giving foundations
The Patriot Act show on philanthropy: