Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read July 2021 — The Minnesota-St. Paul region is home to a philanthropic ecosystem of nonprofits, for-profits and government agencies that look creatively and effectively at solving the emerging issues of the community. Eric Jolly, president and CEO of the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, spoke with Invest: and shared his insights on the future of this ecosystem.
What is the foundation’s approach to its program development and targeted areas?
We work with trusted partners, people who are involved and engaged in the community. Every foundation, including ours, asks who and how many people are going to benefit from this work? How many senior citizens are getting aid and how many children are getting fed? What is uncommon for foundations to ask is who set the standard and established this intervention, whatever it is, as a priority for a particular community. Who informs the work sets a different standard of agenda, a different standard of priorities for what social ills have to be confronted and when; asking different questions creates a different urgency. We then ask who forms the work, who created the method of intervention and whether they speak literally or figuratively, especially, the language of the community. We gauge if they are providing a solution in the manner in which a community can best take advantage of it. Our first lens is an equity lens, focused on creating a just, equitable and vibrant Minnesota in which all communities and people thrive. When we fund things like Justice 4 All, a program for returning citizens that looks at the entire continuum of criminal justice, from over-policing to incarceration and later release, it benefits all Minnesotans.
The other thing we do is a two-year, multilingual survey to measure community connectedness and understand the layers of differentiation of the challenges among our different communities. For some of our communities, the real challenge to gainful employment is homeownership. For others, it’s transportation. For still others, it’s child care. Those describe three very different communities whose needs do not all come together in one person very often. Though sometimes they do.
In what fields would you like to see a more proactive response from a legislative standpoint?
We would love to see the state deal more with a program called Partnership for a ConnectedMN, which is a public-private partnership among us, Best Buy and a number of other partner organizations. This is an area where state policymakers should step up and assure that connectivity is not the factor that hinders part of our population, whether rural, reservation or urban, to be fully engaged as citizens. We are looking to ensure lack of high bandwidth access does not become a barrier to either education or employment.
Another area we would love to see the state become involved in became truly evident during COVID: the lack of affordable childcare is keeping parents from gainful employment. It’s a crisis that needs to be addressed. Minnesota has done some great work in that area. We have programs that certify and support high-quality childcare but there is not enough, and access is not easy.
How is your foundation looking to further develop its partnerships in the area?
When you see your foundation leadership and your business leadership working together to solve problems, you get a virtuous circle of policy alignment, business investment alignment, banking alignment, nonprofit support alignment and our foundation as a catalyst. More than anything else, we are a catalyst for these different organizations that want to see change. We are the liaison between nonprofit, for-profit, government and the independent sector.
When COVID hit, the state of Minnesota and 40 of its foundations united to create the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund, which we helped manage with the Minnesota Council of Foundations. And that fund worked all across the state, first to distribute emergency relief dollars to make sure that the nonprofit infrastructure that serves our community stabilized. We then moved from relief to recovery efforts to help them rebuild. What we found during that time was a number of leaders who had not been as prominent before who really showed us what they had in them in terms of creativity, to fundamentally revolutionize our service delivery.
We also worked with state leadership to make sure that American Rescue Plan dollars and state dollars were allocated to help rebuild businesses impacted by COVID and civil unrest—and will continue to engage in partnerships across sectors that benefit our community.
What is your near-term outlook?
We are going to continue to hear that some organizations have gotten back on their feet faster than others. We are going to see some mergers and acquisitions in our nonprofit sector. We are going to also see some investment in the private sector. Our cautious tone is related to understanding what essential elements of our ecosystem for the nonprofit sector we need to maintain to be able to fill in the voids. For 2022, we are incredibly optimistic. The challenges of COVID and the challenges of civil unrest have raised a new crop of leaders who are creative and resilient in ways that we’ve never seen before. The most successful nonprofits in our sector haven’t narrowed their mission because their funding became narrow. They expanded their vision and served more people in different ways. That kind of creativity has changed the way in which we conceive of the sector. More creative leaders and more diverse leaders all came out of this. People have a voice, and without the restrictions of COVID, it will become a grand community of powerful leaders with new ideas.
For more information, visit: https://www.spmcf.org/