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Announcing McKnight’s New Strategic Framework

An Open Letter to the Community

As we begin a new year, we are delighted to share with you the McKnight Foundation’s new Strategic Framework 2019-2021.

Our board of directors unanimously approved the document last November. It reflects our shared sense of urgency given the societal and planetary challenges of our day. It also reflects our commitment to using the Foundation’s resources for relevance, credibility, and impact—all in collaboration with our grantees and community partners.

The Framework articulates our mission, our values, and the core elements of our philanthropic approach. It will guide us in direction setting and decisionmaking, and it will ground us as we hold ourselves accountable in our relationships, in our work, in our impact. This Framework captures who we are today when we are at our best and propels us toward a collective aspiration.

What’s new about the Strategic Framework: Building on the decades-long history and stewardship of this family foundation, we have updated our mission and refined our philanthropic approach to reflect the changing times. Our new mission is to advance a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive.

Our new mission is to advance a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive.

This mission statement emerged from deep and intentional thinking on the part of the McKnight board and staff, influenced by what we’ve experienced and learned from the wider community. We see actions and examples every day that embody our new mission, even as we are clear-eyed about countervailing forces. We believe this is a time that calls for institutions to be bold and to bring an abundance mindset that expands our imagination of what is possible. This new Strategic Framework will help us do both.

As with earlier frameworks, we drew inspiration and ideas from many sources. Among the insights, we particularly appreciate those we drew from biomimicry, an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies,” and Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World by Kathleen E. Allen. In addition, the recent publication of FSG’s Being the Change was timely as we consider opportunities to be better “fit to function”—a design concept that the form that any entity takes should follow its intended purpose.

“We believe this is a time that calls for institutions to be bold and to bring an abundance mindset that expands our imagination of what is possible.”

This new Strategic Framework will naturally spark questions about what, if anything, may change at McKnight. It’s perhaps best to start with what we know won’t change.

The McKnight Foundation remains a place-based family foundation that cares about our deep relationships in all the places where we work, particularly our home state of Minnesota. We hold true to the long-term systems-thinking approach we have always had, and we are committed to transparency, respect, and equity in our partnerships and in our communities.

Using adaptive action, our board and staff will begin to examine how we can respond to the urgent needs of these times in light of our Strategic Framework. We will assess where we are now, how we can do better, and where we are challenging ourselves to go. We will build on the strengths of our current work while looking for ways to be more effective and to ensure that our systems and practices are fit to function. In the months ahead, we will share additional thoughts about the implications of the new Framework, including if and how our strategies will evolve.

Midwest Climate & Energy program director Aimee Witteman and director of investments Elizabeth McGeveran meet at McKnight's offices.
Education program director Erin Imon Gavin reads with students at Wellstone Elementary.
Arts program director Vickie Benson talks with community members at Juxtaposition Arts' capital campaign kickoff.

As we choose to step into the future together, we cannot help but remember and honor the past—the spirit that built this four-generation family foundation. Founder William L. McKnight, an early leader of 3M, and his wife, Maude L. McKnight, embedded in the Foundation the importance of innovation, evidence-based research, and people’s creative potential. Their daughter, Virginia McKnight Binger, brought her heart-centered compassion, generosity, and relationships-based approach, which remain a driving force at the Foundation to this day.

We carry their legacy forward as we begin to live into our new Strategic Framework. We hold in our minds and hearts the possibility of positive change—as a foundation, as a community, as a planet—and look forward to working with you to effect that change.

Read McKnight’s New Strategic Framework

Topic: Strategic Framework

January 2019