Meaningful Progress is Incremental

I meet with many foundation staff and trustees who understand the mechanics of philanthropy (guidelines, proposals, site visits, recommendations, report and repeat) but are frustrated by the seeming lack of results in the community. It is easy to get discouraged.

I watch the news and wonder why philanthropy hasn’t done more to decrease youth violence, close our embarrassing opportunity gaps or end homelessness. We have invested so much (more than $1.5 billion a year from MCF-member foundations alone) in these and other issues, yet it seems we are doing worse on almost every indicator. I have a growing feeling that we will leave the community worse off for our children than it was left for us.

How could we not feel that way? Two very high-profile police shootings have left our sense of Minnesota as a progressive and fair place shaken. We read the Washington Post article, “If Minneapolis is so great, why is it so bad for African Americans?” A million other things scream at us from headlines, grant applications and Facebook feeds.

But if we look at the data, many things are getting better. People are living longer, earning more and getting more schooling. According to Peter Diamandis’s book, “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think,” Americans complete an average of 21 years of schooling, up from 7 years in 1900. And we've reduced violent crime significantly. In the mid-1990s, there were more than 50 victims per 1,000 individuals, but this has now dropped to 15.

So why doesn’t it feel like we’re making progress? We’re entering an era of exponential change where nonprofits and foundations will face challenges without precedent. Problems will more often be classified as wicked, so solutions may inadvertently make them worse and fixes will get more complicated.

Instead of a system where nonprofits report on progress over several years, change will more often be systemic and led by relative novices. United by hashtags and shared values, these newcomers will galvanize the public to address injustice by pressuring companies, governments and even social sector organizations. In this new environment, a new leadership style is required. Foundation staff must be collaborative, transparent, culturally attuned, agile and ready to hustle in ways not required of previous generations. MCF is here to help you strengthen your skills.

In this Giving Forum you’ll hear about Tawanna Black who is mobilizing funders to better North Minneapolis; David Nicholson’s and Maria De La Cruz’s response to the death of Jamar Clark; and how Holly Sampson is ensuring her community’s resilience in the face of natural disaster.

At MCF’s conference in January, you will explore Philanthropy in Action when you hear from Kelly Ryan, president and CEO of Wisconsin Rapids' Incourage community foundation, which has aligned 100% of resources with mission. All of this will help you take your skills to the next level while solving some of our community’s biggest challenges.

Trista Harris
Minnesota Council on Foundations