Philanthropy for many is simply ‘doing the right thing’ for Blacks

MSR speaks with Minnesota Council on Foundations’ president Trista Harris


By Robin James

Contributing Writer


Trista Harris Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Council on Foundations
Trista Harris
Photo courtesy of the
Minnesota Council on Foundations

Who is Trista Harris? She’s an author, blogger, and self-described philanthropic futurist on a mission to lead and empower the next generation of foundation leaders, social entrepreneurs, and do-gooders who will shape the future. Her website says so.

How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career (, 2011) is the worthwhile book that she co-authored along with Rosetta Thurman. And if you haven’t heard by now, Harris was named the new president of Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF) and took over the reins July 29 from Bill King who retired. Prior to the council, she had been the executive director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice.

Previously, Harris also worked at The Saint Paul Foundation, where she served as a program officer and provided leadership on the foundation’s initiatives related to civic engagement and philanthropy. She also managed scholarship funds and the foundation’s grant-making portfolio. While working at The Saint Paul Foundation, Harris was the advancement director for Portico Healthnet, a nonprofit that provides education and health coverage to uninsured Minnesotans.

Harris is a Minnesota native who earned both a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Howard University and a Master of Public Policy degree, with an emphasis on philanthropy and nonprofit effectiveness, from the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. If what they say about philanthropy being the gateway to power is true, then Harris is uniquely qualified to share her meaningful thoughts on how she will help shape what’s happening in the philanthropic community now, and how she hopes to positively influence the lives of Minnesotans.

Last month, the MSR caught up with Harris to highlight her new MCF position and Black philanthropy.


MSR: What made you say yes to the new position with the Minnesota Council on Foundations?

TH: I’ve worked in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors since I was 15. In every single position that I have had — be it program, fundraising, or working at a foundation — the Minnesota Council on Foundations was an important resource. MCF connected me to information about foundations and helped me develop relationships with peers at other foundations to do my job well. I am excited to lead an organization that is such a critical resource to people that “do good” for a living.

MSR: What is your vision for the Minnesota Council on Foundations?

TH: I am excited to grow MCF from an organization that is known for its excellent programming and strong member services to an organization that also leads with and on behalf of philanthropy on issues that are critical to Minnesota.

MSR: What’s going well for the Black philanthropic community?

TH: August [was] Black Philanthropy Month. The Black community may not always talk about our giving using the term “philanthropy” but we have always been a giving people.

Studies show that African Americans are 25 percent more likely to give to charity than Whites [for more information go to passes-that-of-whites.html]… We often don’t think of our giving as philanthropy, it is just “doing the right thing.” There are many more efforts to highlight Black philanthropy and connect African American givers with each other.


Harris provided resources for those who would like to know about philanthropy in the African American community: a great blog on African American philanthropy

Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Givers by Valaida Fullwood

• Community Investment Network, a national network of Black giving circles, for more about Black Philanthropy Month


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