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Remarks: Pressing issues in philanthropy

Blandin Foundation CEO Kathy Annette spoke at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy reception as part of the Minnesota Council of Foundations annual conference. She was introduced by Aaron Dorfman, president and CEO of NCRP.

Thank you, Aaron.  NCRP has played an important role in both showing the way—and keeping the heat turned up on Blandin Foundation.

To be responsive…to keep our heads up…attuned to the world around us.  Your new strategic framework calls out important challenges for us.

And a thanks to MCF for a great day today.  It’s always wonderful to be in the company of our peers, to be learning from each other.


You asked me about pressing issues in philanthropy

A couple of thoughts.

First, I must say that philanthropy is good at seeing and tackling problems… we must also be good at seeing strength, seeing possibility.

Blandin Foundation works exclusively with rural communities.  We stand with those communities as they design and claim vibrant, healthy, inclusive futures.

In that work, we have come to know that every community has assets to build on. 

Many foundations who don’t work as much in rural struggle to see an entry point… And it’s true… the starting point in rural may be different.  But you won’t know if you don’t have relationships there, if you are trusting only models and theories of change forged in urban context.

Best estimates nationally are that 6 or 7 percent of the country’s philanthropic giving benefits rural places, while 20 percent of the population – and most of the main streets – are in rural.  And most of that giving goes to large institutions such as universities and hospitals.  Very little makes its way to rural communities.  And that’s a challenge for philanthropy.

In Minnesota, we have some thinking and work to do, too.   While a good portion of our state’s population lives in non-urban areas, a relatedly small percentage of philanthropic giving is going to rural.

I can tell you that the return on investment in rural places can go a LONG way.  Rural people are very good at leveraging their resources, to get things done with what they have.  And rural communities are rich with relationships and trust…the essential ingredients for change.


A second issue for philanthropy is tackling persistent disparities

It’s been wonderful to see the stock market bounce back, unemployment rates dropping, and wages beginning to increase.  Our own Rural Pulse poll shows a big jump in optimism among several of-color populations living in rural Minnesota.

AND, there are large swaths of people—mostly in rural places—who have been largely left behind by economic recovery.   And it seemed that nobody was noticing.

Philanthropy’s got to keep its foot on the gas, to do what it can to drive prosperity to all people—rural/urban, white/of-color, women and men, different abilities, seen and unseen. 

And that may mean getting out of our offices, getting out of our comfort zones, going places that may not have an airport….  Building new relationships.  And NCRP is good to remind us that we can’t always turn to intermediaries—we’ve got to take the time ourselves.

I try to do that.  I travel as much as I can. 

I sat down with a wonderfully diverse group in Austin, Minnesota and heard how they have worked through prejudice to be a truly welcoming community,

Bemidji is a border community that is persistent in making itself a place that works for both Native Americans and white cultures and peoples; I was one of those residents who used to have a very different experience in Bemidji and am so proud now of what they are doing. 

Willmar has partnered with us to invest in a community-wide effort to build its leadership as an ethnically diverse community.   I love Willmar—it is so open about its challenges and so committed to being healthy and inclusive.

While every community is very – and wonderfully – different, one element is common: community leadership.

Leadership not necessarily people in positions of power.  Because community leaders come from everywhere and anywhere.  They are those who do what it takes to get things done – for their community.  They also know that they must do it themselves, but they can’t do it alone.

Blandin Foundation just celebrated its 75th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of its Blandin Community Leadership Program.  We have invested in training more than 7,000 people throughout rural Minnesota.  Leaders who now speak the common language of community leadership, have been challenged to see the systems at work in their community, to imagine a vibrant future that works for everybody, and equipped with more tools, including grant resources. 

In looking at its strategic framework, you can see why NCRP has been an important partner for Blandin Foundation over the years.  Your voice, your vision, keeps prodding us on… to be conscious of where and how we re-invest our founder’s resources and legacy. 

Thank you, and congratulations.


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