Below are some questions and answers regarding McKnight’s Vibrant & Equitable Communities (V&EC) program. For more information, we invite you to read the V&EC program strategies and application guidelines, and to view this informational webinar, which we hosted in September 2020 at the program’s launch.

Grantmaking Logistics

1. How many grantmaking rounds are there each year?

There are four grantmaking rounds each year. The team reviews inquiries and invited proposals quarterly. Inquiries are due January 15, April 15, July 15, and October 15. We are currently accepting applications for the January 15, 2021 date.

2. What is the expected duration of a grant? Do you make multiyear grants?

McKnight typically makes grants for one or two years. We work closely with the requesting organization to determine both the grant type (general operations, project, program, etc.) and the grant duration. If you have questions, please contact a program staff member before submitting your grant request.

3. What is your grantmaking budget?

The V&EC program’s 2021 grantmaking budget is $25 million. Because we are honoring commitments to current grantees from our sunsetting Education and Region & Communities programs, we expect to have roughly $18 million available for new V&EC grants in 2021.

4. Will McKnight allocate the $15 million grants budget equally across the four grant cycles?

We won’t allocate a fixed portion of grant funds each quarter. We will work as a team to ensure that each quarter there will be meaningful dollars available to award to applicants. With respect to grant size, there is no advantage to applying earlier in the year versus later.

5. What types of grants are available—general operating, program grants, others?

The V&EC program will regularly consider general operating and program/project grants. Typically, we would start a relationship with a new grantee partner through a program or project grant. In rare instances, we would consider a capital request. If you have a capital request, we encourage you to connect with a program staff member at least six months before you require funding.

6. Will McKnight consider program planning grants?

Yes, we will consider grants for program planning and for implementation.

7. Will McKnight consider funding research projects, or more direct services programs?

McKnight funds a range of activities, from community organizing to research, analysis, and planning. We also fund nonpartisan policy advocacy and implementation. We typically do not fund direct or human services.

8. Is it necessary to secure matching funding?

We look at an organization’s entire budget and are appreciative when organizations identify other funders or support for their work. Matched funding is not a requirement to request McKnight funds.

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Eligibility Requirements

9. What types of organizations are eligible?

With very few exceptions, applicants must be classified by the Internal Revenue Service as tax-exempt nonprofit organizations to be eligible for a grant. Government entities, including state, county, and municipal, may apply for funding for innovative projects. We generally will not fund activities that are traditionally the sole responsibility of government. Contact Renee Richie, program and grants associate, who can connect you to a program staff member to answer more specific questions about your situation.

10. How does McKnight intend to fund cooperatives for the community wealth grants, since most cooperatives are for-profit entities?

We have supported nonprofit cooperatives in the past. We are interested in exploring new models of shared or cooperative ownership. Most often, these would be not-for-profit operations. However, we might consider for-profit entities that benefited wealth building within low-wealth communities or communities of color. We would need to ensure that any support met all the legal requirements of the Foundation.

11. If I have a fiscal sponsor, can I apply for a grant?

Fiscal sponsorship or a fiscal relationship with another organization taking the lead in submitting an initial inquiry is possible but not always recommended. Organizations, projects, or programs with fiscal sponsors should contact a program staff member to discuss potential options and alternatives.

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12. Can you share what you mean by working statewide? Does that mean multiple sites? How do you see your grantmaking divided between the Minneapolis–St. Paul metro and Greater Minnesota?

“Statewide” means we are committed to working with grantees and partners across the state, including both the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota. There’s currently no set funding breakdown by region in the state. While we will not be able to fund in every corner of the state, McKnight looks forward to expanding our networks of relationships and support in both the metro and Greater Minnesota.

13. Can you clarify terminology about funding in Minnesota? Must the organization be based in Minnesota, or can it be outside the state as long as it has programs applicable to Minnesota?

We anticipate that most of our funding will support Minnesota-based organizations. However, we welcome applications from partners outside of Minnesota who are working to support vibrant and equitable communities in our state. We recommend contacting a program staff member to discuss your work.

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Types of Partners

14. Are you looking to fund more established organizations and projects, newer efforts, or a combination?

As a new program, V&EC welcomes new requests that align with our program goals. We expect to support a combination of existing, new, and innovative project proposals that will grow with this opportunity. We look forward to learning from new and existing projects over time.

15. Will you fund intermediary organizations? What are your thoughts regarding funding community work at an intermediary level versus closer to the ground?

Recognizing the importance of grassroots efforts and leadership, McKnight works in partnership with a range of intermediaries that are well positioned to support smaller, community-based efforts. We anticipate partnering with intermediaries to advance V&EC program strategies, and we welcome proposals from intermediary organizations. Intermediaries most often leverage additional grantmaking resources, provide grants and other capital, support and provide technical assistance within a field of work, and participate in and shape the systems that enhance the impact on the ground.

Under the new program, we look forward to learning about new partners closer to the ground who can help us meet our goals. We encourage nonprofits to apply even if an intermediary in your region or community has received funding, and we recommend contacting a program staff member to discuss your work.

16. How does McKnight view proposals that are relevant to more than one program at McKnight, such as the overlap between the V&EC program and the Midwest Climate & Energy program?

We will collaborate closely with staff members in other McKnight programs, such as Arts and Midwest Climate & Energy, and we welcome proposals that intersect with multiple programs. Contact a program staff member for guidance on the best approach.

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17. Are you exclusively funding Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC)–led organizations in this new program? Will a percentage of the awards be designated for Black-founded and Black-focused organizations?

Though McKnight is committed to increasing its support to BIPOC-led organizations, we will continue to fund multicultural, multiracial partners inclusive of all communities who call Minnesota home. We do not have a set percentage expectation. Given our program’s racial lens, we will pay close attention and have an appropriate mix of investments to organizations led by people of color.

18. How do you define BIPOC organization or BIPOC-led?

McKnight currently defines BIPOC-led groups as those for whom at least three of the following are true:

  • Fifty percent of senior staff are BIPOC-identified.
  • Fifty percent of board members are BIPOC-identified.
  • The organization has BIPOC leadership (executive/senior level) and is implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and/or navigating organizational transition for greater equity in programming/operations.
  • The group mission explicitly focuses on BIPOC communities.
  • A majority of BIPOC-group members are leading the project and/or initiative.    

19. Will you consider proposals that address community equity and climate solutions in tandem?

Yes, we welcome proposals that intersect McKnight program areas. Please contact a program staff member to discuss your work and for guidance on submitting an inquiry.

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Education and Region & Communities-Focused Grantees

20. What are the significant differences between V&EC and the former Region & Communities program?

We see three significant differences relating to our focus and guidelines:

  • The new program is intentionally focused statewide.
  • We include strengthening democratic participation as a key strategy.
  • We are deepening our commitment to leaders in the communities most affected by Minnesota’s racial, cultural, and economic disparities.

21. How open is the Foundation to proposals that see education as a lever for advancing economic mobility, democratic participation, or community wealth? Are grants for systems change in K–12 education a good fit?

We are proud of our former Education grantee partners and the progress they have made. As a funding organization, we are required to make difficult decisions, one of which was to end our focus on early childhood and K–12 education. If you feel your work aligns with other elements of our new program guidelines, we invite you to contact a program staff member.

22. If I have an existing grant with Education or Region & Communities and want to receive support for new work, may I apply for additional dollars in 2021?

We ask that you wait until your existing grant is ending, and then talk to a program officer about new work and additional dollars. We base this request on our current commitments to you and others, the volume of applications we anticipate in this first funding round, and our desire to support new work.  

23. Our organization does not fall squarely within the four funding strategies (economic mobility, community wealth, housing, and democratic participation), but may have a down-the-road impact on all of them due to our education focus. Are you only funding organizations that specifically address one or more of these four areas, or is there flexibility?

Given the volume of funding requests, we prioritize organizations working within our four strategy areas. If you feel your work somehow aligns with these, we encourage you to contact a program staff member to discuss your ideas.

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Applying for a Grant

24. What is the best link for the grant applications?

We invite you to preview the applications on McKnight’s website. Please note that we have updated the initial inquiry form to reduce allowable word counts in response to partner feedback. Responses to each inquiry need not meet the maximum word count.

25. Do I need to talk to a program staff member before I apply?

We hope that this Q&A and our September 2020 webinar provide the general information you need for the initial inquiry. However, if you have questions about the V&EC program and/or are new to McKnight, we recommend that you contact a program staff member. Renee Richie can help connect you to a team member.

26. What if I’m a current grantee? When should I apply for new funding?

If you are applying for funding for the same purpose as that of your current grant, we encourage you to apply when your existing grant is up for renewal.

27. How many times can my organization apply in one year? If we are awarded a grant, can we submit another application for a different period?

To minimize work for your organization and help McKnight manage the numerous requests we receive, an organization should request funds once only per year. Occasionally, circumstances, such as new opportunities or challenging current events, may present a reason to apply again. Contact a program staff member if you believe there may be sufficient justification for an additional request.

28. Is there a maximum grant request?

There is no maximum request amount. Given the volume of submissions we expect this round, we don’t anticipate making many grants over $250,000 in 2021. We recommend that you discuss the level of support you require with a program staff member before submitting an inquiry.

29. Can grantees have multiple grants with you at one time?

Grantees may have multiple grants concurrently, though we prefer to reduce the administrative burden on both McKnight and grantee staff members with a single grant that either provides general operating support or funds multiple projects simultaneously.

30. What is the approximate timeline from submitting an initial inquiry to acceptance of a proposal? 

  • The team reviews proposals shortly after the initial inquiry deadlines: January 15, April 15, July 15, and October 15.
  • Those inquiries that advance to the full proposal stage are notified and asked to submit materials with a deadline typically three to four weeks after the initial inquiry deadline.
  • McKnight’s board then reviews grant recommendations at the next scheduled board meeting: February, May, August, or November.

31. What happens between the application and the final consideration by the board? Will there be site visits during that time?

Today, health and safety are the top concern of the Foundation. We will assign a program officer to each invited grant request. That officer will likely conduct a “site visit” by phone or video. A site visit would take place after we invite a full proposal. We will continue to adapt our proposal review process as circumstances change.

32. If my initial inquiry does not get selected, will you carry it forward to future rounds?

If we received an inquiry that aligned well with our funding guidelines but was beyond our capacity to fund during that round, we would consider advancing the proposal to the next quarter. We will not move forward inquiries that do not align with our guidelines or fit well for other reasons.

33. If not selected to receive a grant, will there be an opportunity to receive 1:1 feedback? What is the follow-up process?

Absolutely. If we do not invite you to submit a full proposal, you are welcome to schedule a time to talk with a team member.

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Contacting the V&EC Team

34. Are individual staff members assigned to each of the four strategies—economic mobility, community wealth, housing, and democratic participation?

At this point, there is not a designated staff member for each area. We anticipate that the team as a whole will review grants across all strategies.

35. If we are new to the McKnight Foundation, who is the best staff person to talk with?

Please contact Renee Richie and she will direct you to the right person for your needs.

36. How can I stay updated?

The Vibrant & Equitable Communities page on McKnight’s website is the best place to find the latest information.

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