2021 Draft Principles for Grantmakers

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An Invitation to Join MCF’s Members in Grantmaking Excellence

The desire to give is the underpinning of philanthropy and a defining human characteristic. The members of the Minnesota Council on Foundations work in service to and in partnership with the community. As members of MCF, we invite all philanthropic organizations to join us in reaching for excellence in giving.

Since the last revision to the Principles for Grantmakers, the work required of the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors has greatly evolved. Our historical and current realities require the field of philanthropy to rethink and redefine our collective work. We are called to address structural inequities and systemic racism; we are asked to engage and share power with community; we are challenged to deploy more of our assets. We are called to do even better than we’ve done in the past.

These Principles for Grantmakers were developed using a developmental framework for achieving excellence. Wherever you see your institution on the spectrum of organizational development, the Principles for Grantmakers offer an opportunity for learning and improving. Through MCF, the philanthropic sector grows better together.

As a community of grantmakers, we use the assets of our organizations to improve the vitality and health of our communities, to learn together and to strengthen philanthropy’s positive impacts. We express a shared commitment to excellence by formally subscribing to these Principles for Grantmakers.

Principles for Grantmakers (Draft)

    We believe that ethical leadership is required to build and maintain community trust in philanthropy. This is achieved through adherence to laws, good governance and community-informed decision making.

    Baseline Principle
    We lead in a manner that generates community trust. In addition to adhering to all applicable laws, we seek to continuously improve our governance and decision-making processes.

    Aspirational Principle
    We actively engage the community in our governance and decision making, balancing donor intent and community need. We strengthen our leadership and community trust by creating teams of decision makers who reflect the diversity of the community we serve.

    Our organizations operate with a privileged tax status, created to reward donors who commit their money to benefit the public. We recognize that, in addition to money, foundation assets include investments, relationships, human resources, connections and networks, knowledge and expertise, and stature.

    Baseline Principle
    We recognize and use the wide range of assets held by philanthropy to create positive benefits and impact for our community.

    Aspirational Principle
    We use all of our assets to build equity and strengthen communities. We use all available tools such as values-based investing, impact investing and spending beyond minimum requirements, to generate community benefits.
    Having a clear and transparent mission, values and goals allows us to be purposeful in philanthropy and facilitates accountability with communities and stakeholders.

    Baseline Principle
    Our missions, values and goals are clearly stated and transparent to the community. We periodically examine our mission, values and goals for relevance and impact, and hold ourselves accountable to them.

    Aspirational Principle
    We seek to understand and incorporate the values of our stakeholders and the communities we serve into our missions, values and goals. The community participates in examining our mission, values and goals for relevance, and holds us accountable to them.
    Many of our social systems are built on structural inequities and systemic racism. Philanthropy is one of those systems and, as a result, controls an enormous amount of money and related power.

    Baseline Principle
    We acknowledge that structural inequities and systemic racism create the resource gap and power differential between philanthropy and the community. We seek to understand the inequities and racism that we perpetuate and work to become anti-racist organizations. In order to advance equity and justice, we listen to the community, honor their story and rely on their lived experience to inform our grantmaking.

    Aspirational Principle
    We acknowledge our privilege in resources and resulting power. We commit to increase power sharing with our community, especially with communities that have been historically marginalized. Through power sharing in decision making, we increase the community’s access to philanthropy’s resources to increase equity and justice, dismantle racism and eliminate other systemic inequities.
    Philanthropy works best when it builds long-term community relationships rather than focusing on short-term transactions. Positive impacts increase when we hold mutually respectful, direct relationships with the community. As a result of community engagement, philanthropic organizations become more relevant and more accountable to our community.

    Baseline Principle
    We listen to the desires of the community and we interact with the community in culturally appropriate, meaningful and mutually respectful ways. We engage in continual and reciprocal listening and learning, cultural curiosity and humility. In our relationships, we respect the community’s time and resources and strive to give more than we receive.

    Aspirational Principle
    We take time to understand our relationships with the community, align our aspirations and actions, and adjust our work, as needed. We solicit the community’s critiques and feedback. We strengthen our grantmaking through shared power, co-creation of projects and joint decision making.
    Society equates money with power, and power with influence. As a result of money, philanthropic organizations enjoy power and influence that we must use responsibly, both individually and collectively, for the greater good.

    Baseline Principle
    We form our public voice by listening humbly to those with lived experience on issues we seek to influence. We use our collective voice to share knowledge, educate ourselves and others, and impact change on issues that advance equity and strengthen our community.

    Aspirational Principle
    We amplify the voice of communities that have been historically marginalized. We use our voice to impact change in public policy and public opinion on issues important to our communities. We use our resources to amplify community voices and support grassroots advocacy.
    We have unprecedented access to qualitative and quantitative data from sources including science, research and interpersonal networks. The community provides critical stories and lessons about the human impact of policies and resource distribution. We are obligated to use this information to actively learn and strengthen our practice.

    Baseline Principle
    We are curious about our work and engage in activities that allow us to consider new viewpoints and changing contexts. Through evidence-based research, self-assessment, evaluation and professional development, we seek and use information that improves our grantmaking and expands our understanding of the community.

    Aspirational Principle
    With the community, we engage in ongoing learning and jointly define funding priorities. We acknowledge and respect many cultural ways of learning and knowing. We facilitate learning for ourselves and support learning for our grantee partners.
    Transparency builds trust and strengthens our accountability to the community. By being transparent, we are accountable to our mission, values and goals.

    Baseline Principle
    We exhibit transparency and accountability by being clear, consistent and timely in our communications, decisions and commitments. We share information publicly in order to meet state and federal regulatory requirements and uphold community expectations, in the context of our mission, values and goals.

    Aspirational Principle
    We consider state and federal regulatory requirements to be the minimum standard of transparency. We excel at transparency and accountability by engaging the community in decision making and external evaluation of our work.