Advancing Prosperity and Equity

Advancing Prosperity and Equity

Susie Brown, new president of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, brings fresh ideas to the service organization for philanthropy.

The Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF) will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020. The kick-off events will be Feb. 13-14 at MCF’s annual conference at the McNamara Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Susie Brown, MCF’s president, is eager for people to save the dates and join the festivities. Brown, who started work in her position in April, is a well-known and active member of Minnesota’s nonprofit sector, having served as policy director for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits from 2010 to 2016, then leading the Hennepin County Bar Association as executive director.

MCF’s 144 members include 35 family foundations, 18 independent foundations, 34 community foundations, and 45 corporate foundations and corporate giving programs. There also are a small number of members that are public entities, intermediaries, or operating foundations. If these organizational classifications are a mystery to you, MCF wants to help.

A major thrust of MCF’s mission is to help philanthropic organizations collectively provide public information about their work. For example, MCF offers an online directory of its members, distributes information and data about philanthropic giving in Minnesota, and provides news and updates about philanthropic organizations and their grant deadlines, reports, and program initiatives in print, online,  and through social media (see mcf.org). In an interview, Brown spoke about upcoming changes at MCF that are based on what she’s learned in her early months in her new position. She emphasized that MCF’s value proposition, the framework that guides the organization’s work, will not change. “Collectively advancing prosperity and equity” is an enduring vision.

What will change are the ways MCF brings its values to life. “We’re at a point of refreshing how we do things,” Brown says. “We’ve restructured the staff and taken a look at our programs and decided on a focus on key themes.”

Here’s some of what you’ll see in MCF’s future:

Focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“We want to create a field of philanthropy which is more diverse, and more inclusive, for people to participate in than it has been in the past. We want to help our members think about how their resources can be advancing equity. And our field in general is spending time contemplating historical inequities that have led to the asset creation of our members.” In the reorganized staff, a full-time position will be devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion work with members.

Focus on “a well-functioning democracy.”

In the coming year, this will mean a concerted effort to ensure an “inclusive, honest, and accurate” census count in Minnesota. Members are involved in initiatives such as supporting local Complete Count Committees, which help organize the census process at the local level. Census information resources will be available on the MCF website.

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Focus on disaster and recovery planning.

When disasters strike, private philanthropic dollars and expertise are called on to support recovery efforts. Grantmakers now are advocating for deeper and more thorough disaster planning at the local, state, and federal levels to better prepare Minnesotans for these circumstances. In cases of weather events, cyberattacks, mass shootings, and other challenges, grantmakers believe Minnesota can be better prepared to cope and recover.

Focus on public information.

MCF will renew its commitment to providing baseline public information about grantmakers in the state, bringing back the popular Giving in Minnesota report next year. Most recently published in 2014, this report is an essential tool for grant seekers, policy makers, journalists, and others who want access to detailed information about philanthropic giving. Further, Brown expects her staff to carefully examine the research and communication needs of stakeholder groups outside MCF’s membership: “Are we conveying the information and news that’s most important to the external stakeholder community?”

Focus on renewing MCF’s statement of principles and practices for grantmakers.

MCF’s statement of principles dates back to the original created in 1996 and renewed in 2006. While resonant in many of its elements, the statement lacks a necessary reflection on contemporary practice and does not yet reflect lessons learned in philanthropy over a generation of work.

Brown is enthusiastic and future-facing about her scope of work. “We’re a big tent of different kinds of grantmakers in Minnesota that come together to create a community that does things together we couldn’t do on our own. We learn from each other by offering programs like conferences, training, peer networks, and issue-based discussion groups.”

Minnesota long has been considered a leader in corporate, family, and foundation philanthropy. What will that look like as the 21st century unfolds? “Minnesota philanthropy is a unique and special field,” Brown says. “We want our members to be learning organizations. How do we cut through the noise and think carefully and strategically about helping the field move? Our peer work at MCF is a place where this can be contemplated, discussed, and deliberated.”


Sarah Lutman is a St. Paul-based independent consultant and writer for clients in the cultural, media, and philanthropic sectors.