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William L. McKnight and his wife, Maude L. McKnight, established the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis in 1953. One of the early leaders of 3M, Mr. McKnight rose from assistant bookkeeper to president, CEO, and board chair in a career that spanned 59 years, from 1907 to 1966. His philosophy on employee initiative and innovation still guides many leading businesses today.

The McKnight Foundation is an independent private philanthropic organization; it is not affiliated with 3M.

In 1974, shortly after his wife’s death, McKnight asked their only child, Virginia McKnight Binger, to lead the Foundation. Working with Russell Ewald as executive director, Mrs. Binger established the formal grantmaking program and community-based approach that remain a part of the Foundation’s legacy.

McKnight’s grant programs reflect decades, and generations, of diverse interests and investments. Fourth-generation members of this private family foundation continue to be active on the board of trustees.

Virginia Mcknight headshot

Virginia McKnight Binger Heart of Community Honor

Each year, the McKnight Foundation and the Minnesota Council of Foundation celebrate seven everyday champions from across Minnesota whose compassion and contributions serve as the heartbeat of our communities, inspiring others to join in creating a more caring and connected state.

The award is named for Virginia McKnight Binger, the Foundation’s first board chair and the only daughter of McKnight’s founders. Mrs. Binger passed away in 2002, and this award helps us remember her enduring spirit of compassion, humility, and generosity.

Originally called the Virginia McKnight Binger Awards in Human Service and later the Unsung Hero Awards, the honor has recognized 319 people since it was first presented in 1985.