Leaders in Giving: Companies and Foundations

Leaders in Giving: Companies and Foundations

A look at philanthropic efforts by mission-driven businesses.

Askov Finlayson


“Keep the North cold” evolved from slogan to mission for North Loop retail company Askov Finlayson. “If there’s any single, unifying global issue of our time, it’s climate change,” co-founder and CEO Eric Dayton says. “That’s what we’ve taken as our mission.” Last year, Askov Finlayson pledged $1 million over the next five years to climate action organizations. They also hired a vice president of environmental impact and policy who is working on a formula to calculate the brand’s “climate cost”—from the impact of growing organic cotton to the energy used at its store and offices. Askov Finlayson plans to donate 110 percent of that figure annually to groups that fight climate change.

Can Can Wonderland

St. Paul

This hipster playground, which opened in 2017, has gotten a lot of attention for its artsy mini golf course, vintage pinball arcade, and whimsical cocktails, but Can Can Wonderland takes the arts to heart: It’s Minnesota’s first arts-based public benefit corporation. “The three of us had been involved in the arts for almost two decades, and the fundraising cycle was always frustrating,” says co-founder and CEO Jennifer Pennington of herself and her two partners. “When the recession occurred, a lot of arts funding went away. We wanted to find a way to create ongoing, stable funding for the arts, to pay artists, and to grow new audiences for the arts, to engage people in the arts. We became a PBC as a way to institutionalize those values in the business.” Can Can Wonderland drew approximately 200,000 visitors in its first year in business and paid $570,000 to artists and arts groups that performed or created work for the venue.

Cargill Foundation


Cargill’s philanthropic arm, which in 2015 ranked as Minnesota’s second-largest giver with roughly $115.5 million in charitable investments, has a keen interest in improving access to nutritious food and teaching kids the importance of eating well. In north Minneapolis, an area Cargill calls “one of the nation’s foremost food deserts,” the organization spent nearly $2 million in 2016 to provide food and education to more than 300,000 children ages 2 through 12. Many of the Cargill Foundation’s efforts are coordinated through partnerships, which recently have included three local projects: Appetite for Change, a north Minneapolis nonprofit offering cooking workshops and urban farming experiences for kids and families; Urban Ventures, which grows and sells fresh produce from a south Minneapolis farm and offers education and employment opportunities to local children and families; and the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities for its program to provide 28,000 meals annually to 750 local youths at a cost of $3.35 for every meal.

Carlson Family Foundation


Curtis L. Carlson, founder of the global travel company known today as Carlson, set the “Carlson ethic” for his family and employees: use business to do good. In 1950, he established a foundation to give back to the community. Today, the Carlson Family Foundation focuses its funding priorities on education and children/at-risk youth and youth mentoring. Its education efforts have been substantially focused on the University of Minnesota and its Carlson School of Management. The foundation’s philanthropy is largely dedicated to organizations within the Twin Cities region. In the 2016 fiscal year, the foundation awarded $7.6 million in grants.

Donaldson Foundation


The filtration firm Donaldson Co. Inc. traces its history back to 1915. While they might not grab the media attention of other publicly traded companies, Donaldson is no small operation: Sales for its fiscal 2018 were more than $2.7 billion. The Donaldson Foundation, founded in 1966, donates more than $1.2 million annually in grants and matching gifts to community organizations in the Twin Cities and other metro areas throughout the U.S. where the company has a significant manufacturing or distribution presence. The foundation is squarely focused on funding education programs: Its annual report for 2018 notes that 73 percent of the $1.2 million donated went to programs related to K-12 education.

Ecolab Foundation

St. Paul

With the roughly $7 million the Ecolab Foundation donated in 2017, the organization’s lifetime giving officially edged past the $100 million mark. Over its 32 years, the organization has provided millions of dollars to support its own program, Solutions for Life, and an outside nonprofit, the Nature Conservancy, in a collective effort to address the world’s water challenges. Factoring in population growth, it’s estimated that in less than 20 years, the world will need about 40 percent more water than is available today to maintain food production, generate electricity, and keep up clean water supplies. In an effort to tackle this in its own backyard, the Ecolab Foundation led a $10 million investment round from the Nature Conservancy in 2015 to exclusively protect clean water in Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. On a global scale, its Urban Water Blueprint project with the Nature Conservancy is providing citizens a rare data-fueled look at the current quality and potential risks that face fresh sources of water around the world.

Fair Anita

St. Paul

Founded in 2014 by social entrepreneur Joy McBrien, Fair Anita is a public benefit corporation that sells fair-trade jewelry, apparel, and accessories handcrafted by more than 8,000 female artisans in 16 countries. Fair Anita lives out its mission to empower women around the world by providing marginalized women with fair wages, long-term employment, and business development opportunities, including workshops, mentorships, and networking events. In 2017, the company generated nearly $150,000 in income for women in eight countries. To further support its mission, Fair Anita donates a portion of its proceeds to nonprofit organizations that support women around the world and in the Twin Cities, including Dress for Success and the YWCA.

Federated Insurance


Federated Insurance is a mutual insurance company that provides U.S. businesses with a variety of services and coverage, including property, life, disability income, and workers’ compensation. In 2004, the company, with 2,400 employees nationwide, created the Federated Challenge to support and raise awareness for youth mentoring. Since then, it has raised nearly $35 million to support Big Brothers Big Sisters, providing mentorship opportunities for nearly 4,000 Minnesota youths. A portion of those proceeds are allocated to the Federated Challenge Scholarship, which provides youth participants in Big Brothers Big Sisters programs financial support to pursue degrees at two-year trade and technical colleges.

General Mills Inc.

Golden Valley

The consumer food manufacturer donated $139 million to charitable causes in its fiscal year 2017. The largest share of donations came from corporate contributions, followed by food donations and grants from the General Mills Foundation. But beyond writing checks, General Mills is on a mission to advance sustainable agriculture practices. The company plans to help convert 34,000 acres in South Dakota into organic farmland by 2020. As part of that project, General Mills partnered with Midwestern Bio Ag to teach farmers about regenerative soil management practices and how agricultural landscaping can help a variety of pollinators, including bumblebees. The company has contributed more than $3 million to partners advancing soil health on U.S. agricultural lands.

Graco Foundation


Graco Inc., known for its fluid-handling systems and products, got its start in downtown Minneapolis in 1926. The Graco Foundation focuses on education (particularly STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), workforce development, and youth development. For 2017 the company donated a total of $1.1 million in the Twin Cities and in communities near other Graco facilities throughout the U.S. But Graco’s biggest gift is in its own backyard. The Graco Foundation is donating $3 million to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to help develop a riverfront park in northeast Minneapolis, right next to its headquarters. All told, Graco’s total financial commitment to the project is valued at $10.6 million after tallying up real estate agreements related to the site.



Founded in 2009, Latitude is a brand and experience design agency whose clients include Adidas, the Minnesota Lynx, and REI. The agency, which has offices in Minneapolis, New York, and Portland, Oregon, invests 50 percent of its profits in programs that promote humanitarian programs around the world. Latitude works with nonprofits that focus on the essentials: food, water, safety, health, and education. Among its beneficiaries: rescue missions to free women and kids held in slavery, plus microloans for female entrepreneurs to help them provide for their families and create jobs in their communities. To date, Latitude has provided microloans to more than 1,400 entrepreneurs.

Love Your Melon


A shining star for a new generation of mission-driven businesses, Love Your Melon’s initial plan in 2012 called for donating a beanie to a pediatric cancer patient for every hat sold. The strategy was so successful that LYM’s founders say they literally ran out of patients to give hats to, so they switched to donating half their profits to cancer causes. Since its inception, LYM has given $4.7 million to nonprofits and has donated more than 149,000 beanies to children battling cancer. But it’s more than money. LYM runs a Campus Crew program at colleges throughout the country to engage students in raising awareness of childhood cancer. “It’s like running two companies,” says president and co-founder Zachary Quinn, who juggles LYM philanthropic initiatives and partnerships with duties growing the brand. “You have to make money to have profits to give.”

Read more from this issue

Medtronic Foundation


As a company that got its start engineering medical devices to treat the human heart, the Medtronic Foundation’s global health outreach largely exists to protect this vital organ. Through the $42.3 million it donated in its 2018 fiscal year to three signature programs, the Medtronic Foundation is working around the world to tackle heart complications and other conditions. The newest of those programs, HealthRise, is a five-year global effort with $17 million in funding to provide underserved populations with detection and management counseling for heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic noncommunicable diseases. Other programs focus on improving the lives of people around the world living with rheumatic heart disease and on providing CPR training to emergency responders and even bystanders to improve response rates for cardiac arrest cases.



NTH is well known in commercial real estate circles as a best-in-class tenant representation firm. In 2018, NTH initiated a special program to mark its 25th anniversary. Rather than writing a check, the company donated various items to 12 different community nonprofits throughout the year, highlighting a different organization for each month, such as 25 sets of towels to Simpson Housing Services for its Supportive Housing for Families program and 25 trees to Three Rivers Park. Other recipients have included affordable housing developer Aeon, dog rescue group Safe Hands Rescue, and Alexandra House, which provides services for victims of domestic and sexual violence.



The longtime public affairs firm makes its impact felt through the pro bono time and expertise of its employees. Each year the firm supports several nonprofits with free services from its regional offices. In 2017 it offered counsel and program implementation help to Northern Star Scouting (the local affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America), the Center for Victims of Torture, and, in Richmond, Virginia, where it has offices, to Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical app “hackathon.” Padilla employees donated over $400,000 of their personal time, while the in-kind assistance was valued in excess of $100,000. No major changes are planned in 2019 under new owner Montreal-based Avenir Global.

Pohlad Family Foundation


The Pohlad Family Foundation now exclusively engages in philanthropy to prevent and end family and youth homelessness in the Twin Cities region. It made over $10.3 million in grants in 2016. The foundation’s primary strategies include intervening with youth and families before homelessness sets in, funding affordable housing solutions, and public championing of solutions. In 2019 affordable housing will be the primary area of emphasis, after focusing on homelessness prevention in 2018.

Russell Herder


Since becoming Minnesota’s 10th Certified B Corporation in 2017—one of fewer than 2,500 worldwide—Russell Herder, an advertising and branding agency, has been galvanized in its mission to look beyond profits and measure its social impact. Arts, economic stability, and health and wellness are the beneficiaries of its philanthropy, which in 2017 amounted to more than $100,000 in time and services provided. Among the recipients in 2017 were the Foundation for Cancer Care in Tanzania, the Lakes Area Music Festival in Brainerd, and alternative learning center Gordon Parks High School in St. Paul.

Securian Financial

St. Paul

Securian Financial traces its local history back to the 19th century; it was founded in 1880. Now a Fortune 500 company, the business stays true to its roots. The Securian Foundation’s giving is focused almost exclusively on St. Paul and the state of Minnesota, with an emphasis on programs that support economic independence, education, human services, and the arts. Over the last 10 years, Securian has contributed more than $25 million in cash gifts to the community or nearly $37 million counting in-kind gifts and volunteerism by staff. For 2017, the company estimated that 90 percent of employees participated in its Greater Twin Cities United Way campaign, raising $1 million and ranking as one of the top corporate contributors in the metro.

Sleep Number Corp.


Sleep Number’s marketing strategy is bigger than mattresses: It’s about selling a healthy lifestyle, which begins with quality sleep. The company’s community outreach has the same big-picture focus. In August, Sleep Number announced a social impact commitment: to improve the overall well-being of young people through better sleep. “We believe helping future generations achieve quality sleep can and will change the world,” CEO Shelly Ibach said when the program was announced. “Excellent sleep is essential to a healthier and happier society, strengthening our connections with one another and expanding the frontier of what’s possible.” Sleep Number’s three focus areas include research and data to understand sleep habits of young people and inform them how to achieve high-quality sleep; training and advocacy by partnering with parents, educators, and organizations focused on nutrition, exercise, and well-being; and product donations. A funding commitment hasn’t been announced, but Sleep Number’s goal is to help 1 million children by 2025.

3M Foundation

St. Paul

Core to 3M’s long-term strategic planning is reinvestment in innovation and education, with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). One of the company’s largest charitable investments to date came in December 2017: a $26 million contribution to the University of Minnesota’s Driven campaign to support K-12 students studying STEM and business. The gift, which included $8 million to support scholarships and outreach programs, led U of M president Eric Kaler to call 3M the school’s “largest and longest-standing corporate partner.” Through its own volunteer and charitable programs, the industrial-parts supplier has also invested directly in its own community. Every year since 1995, 3M has donated backpacks filled with school supplies to the St. Paul school district; in 2018, more than 17,000 backpacks were delivered. Likewise, in Austin, Texas, 3M’s program Girlstart is giving K-12 girls year-round opportunities to improve their STEM acumen.

Target Corporation and Foundation


Community giving was part of Target’s DNA before the first store opened in 1962, and it was a core value of Target’s predecessor, the Dayton Company. In 1946, Dayton’s started giving 5 percent of its profits to community groups. In 2017, Target contributed $217 million in cash and products to address the needs in communities it serves. In the Twin Cities, it recently funded arts organizations that provide affordable programming and social services agencies supporting at-risk families. In 2017, Target also addressed its corporate responsibility approach. “Guest expectations of all retailers, including Target, are rising, and their purchasing decisions are increasingly being motivated by concerns like whether a retailer has committed to sustainable business practices or taken a stand on an issue that matters to them,” said Target executive Jennifer Silberman on the Target Corp. website.

The Toro Foundation


Toro Co. is a global business that manufactures and sells lawn, turf, snow, irrigation, and construction equipment, and its foundation naturally focuses charitable and volunteer efforts on water conservation, preserving outdoor environments, and education. In 2018, the company, with 6,800 employees worldwide, launched a new initiative called Land. Water. Thrive. As part of that initiative, the Toro Foundation is granting up to $1 million to nonprofits in the communities where its employees live and work. Grants will be awarded to organizations working to revitalize parks and green spaces, educate communities on efficient use of water, and support sustainable agriculture practices. Bloomington, Shakopee, and Windom, Minnesota, were among the communities selected as 2018 recipients.

Xcel Energy Foundation


The Xcel Energy Foundation for years has offered incentives to bring the energy company’s employees into the philanthropic fold. As a perk for its roughly 12,500 full-time workers, up to 40 hours of paid time off are offered each year exclusively for volunteering at nonprofit organizations. The giving doesn’t stop there. As employees volunteer their time, the Xcel Energy Foundation promises to make a $10-per-hour donation to the employee’s nonprofit of choice, as well as match dollar for dollar any donation of $50 or more that a current or retired employee makes. Over the course of 2017, Xcel employees donated 55,000 hours of their time and nearly $700,000, which helped boost the foundation’s total giving that year to about $11.8 million.