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Image: 2018 Moxie Award

Remarks: 2018 Moxie Award for Inspiring Giving

Remarks by Sonja Merrild, Blandin Foundation grants director, accepting the 2018 Moxie Award for Inspiring Giving, awarded by PFund Foundation.


Thank you, Charlene, thank you Tom, Alfred and the rest of PFund’s team.  This is such an honor and I’m both delighted and humbled to receive this award on behalf of the Blandin Foundation.

I want to acknowledge our wise and committed board member Kandace Creel Falcon who is here with her lovely wife Liz Kuoppala, my colleagues Malissa Bahr and Becky Adams from our Leadership program.

I’d like to touch on three points that add context to this award … 1) the common ground we share with PFund, 2) our genesis story,  and 3) our promise to share the ongoing appeal … that Minnesota philanthropies examine the ways we have historically underfunded LGBTQ communities – and give more.

Common Ground:

So – when we go to work for the Blandin Foundation every day … these are the themes and values we are charged with funding and embodying:  supporting new and diverse leaders, building stronger communities, acting as a trusted partner and advocate, taking courageous action, and breaking down barriers for those among us who have been persistently excluded … sound familiar?  We perceive these as values we share with PFund … and … it’s why we continue to support the people and initiatives of the PFund … including the current and brilliant Better OUTcomes Initiative designed to level the playing field for our LGBTQ neighbors, by educating foundations about how to carry out skillful, sensitive, increased and sustained grantmaking that supports MN’s LGBTQ communities.

Genesis Story:

A meaningful personal story down memory lane.

I joined Blandin Foundation during the summer of 2012.  Alone.  But for a few colleagues, I wouldn’t have known a soul.  I accepted the biggest job I’d ever imagined.  I had a lot of experience working in rural places, but comparatively little in grantmaking at scale.  And – most profoundly – I stepped into more positional power than I’d ever had before.  All I knew was that I now had it … and with it came a serious responsibility to share it.

I hadn’t been on the job for more two months when I get a call from Susan Raffo and Kate Eubank. Remember?

None of us was conventional. They were co-executive directors, and I frankly acted more like a nonprofit leader than a foundation director. Still, my radar was (and is) set on seeing potential in people and ideas.  Which they of course had lots of.  Long story short, the QReach mapping project had a lot of promise for making visible the LGBTQ community in rural places. We invited them to make the long drive to Blandin Foundation, and invited every program director to the meeting —  which wasn’t perhaps the norm, I found later.  I really think this was the genesis of how it has been natural for our staff, and now also our board, to engage with PFund … and not just with me, narrowly through a grants lens.  This openness mattered.  It’s what made it so natural for us to later step in early and fund the Better OUTcomes initiative.

Which brings me to my final appeal to the foundation community in Minnesota:

To foundations here in the audience and foundations across the state who have not yet engaged with a Better OutComes learning cohort ( a key piece of the current initiative).  Do it.  It’s high time for us funders to leave our offices and head out … to commit our time, sit together, listen to each other’s stories.  And that means program people, administrators, foundation leaders, and foundation board members.  If we are to change the way we fund, we have to get closer to each other’s work.  We must know each other better.  Because once we do this, we can’t un-see individuals’ and communities’ lived experiences and deep needs.  We need these stories and we share your belief that authentic relationships, in community, create the change we need.

PFund … thank you for inspiring us to grow and change … to examine our language, our questions, our practices, and what counts the most:  our policies and outcomes.  We will treat this award as both a reward and a nudge to make visible the work and the voices of our rural LGBTQ neighbors and to fund more.

We promise to do our part.

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