What’s your wish for the community?

Mpls marks 100 years of philanthropy with its oldest community foundation

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” It seems right to quote Martin Luther King, Jr. during Black History Month, when many of us reflect on our progress as a community over the years. There’s much to be proud of — and many challenges that remain.

This year, Dr. King’s words also resonate with me as I consider another anniversary that the Twin Cities will celebrate this year: the centennial of one of the nation’s oldest community foundations, The Minneapolis Foundation, on whose board I serve. “What are you doing for others?” That’s not a bad way to sum up what drove the five civic leaders who founded The Minneapolis Foundation in 1915.

At the time, the community foundation movement was in its infancy; the very first community foundation had been founded in Cleveland just a year before. The concept behind this new breed of philanthropic organizations was groundbreaking. The founders envisioned a place where people from across the community could pool their charitable giving, achieving far greater good by working together than they could alone.

A century later, the power of that idea can be seen across our community. By the end of this year, the Foundation and its donors will have granted an estimated $850 million to causes in Minnesota and beyond. Much of that support has gone to nonprofits right here in the Twin Cities.

One of the notable features of a community foundation is that, even as it facilitates collaboration, it supports individuals and families as they follow their own philanthropic dreams. When you look ahead 50 or 100 years, how do you hope the world will be better for your grandchildren? Will they have access to better schools, better career opportunities, live in a safer neighborhood with more vibrant businesses and parks?

Regardless of your vision, a community foundation can help you support it for the long term — and connect with allies who share your goals. For me, working with The Minneapolis Foundation is a chance to make a difference on some the community issues that are most important to my family and me: education, economic vitality, healthy neighborhoods.

As a developer of affordable housing, for example, I’ve worked on a number of projects in North Minneapolis and other Twin Cities neighborhoods. In every one of those projects, figuring out how best to complement and enrich the surrounding community has been an important challenge.

The Minneapolis Foundation has been immersed in similar work for decades. Its investments include grants to the Minneapolis Urban League, the Northside Achievement Zone, Dunwoody College of Technology and many other local nonprofits. But the Foundation’s contributions also include the work it has done to convene people and organizations, bringing them together to debate and coordinate responses to our community’s toughest challenges.

Or take education, another issue that binds us all. My father never attended college but he was a strong advocate of education, and his passion for helping others lives on through the Givens Foundation for African American Literature. The Minneapolis Foundation’s commitment to education goes back decades, too — from scholarships for students in need to funding for school desegregation efforts in the 1970s.

Today, the Foundation and its partners continue to invest in schools and educational programs that support the larger goal of building a more equitable community. The bottom line: All students should have access to an excellent education, regardless of their race, family income, or ZIP code.

As the Foundation celebrates its 100th birthday, I’m already looking ahead to the next century. If I could make one wish for our community, here’s what it would be: Let us continue our essential efforts in developing our future leaders by providing them with the tools and resources they need to receive a quality education and opportunities to expand their horizons. Let us hope that with our support every future generation will be brighter and more united than the one before it, so that our community continues to grow as a vibrant and diverse place to live, work, and play.

What’s your wish?

Archie Givens, Jr. is president and CEO of Legacy Management and secretary of The Minneapolis Foundation’s board of trustees.

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