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Our Voice: Kate Wolford: Appreciation for grantee efforts, and 2011 grantmaking forecast

December 2010 - Open letter to McKnight's grantees from foundation president Kate Wolford.

With a new year and new opportunities just around the bend, I want to express the appreciation of The McKnight Foundation’s board of directors and staff for the results our grantees have achieved in 2010.

Grantees are our most important collaborators in achieving the Foundation’s mission and goals, and we are committed to keeping you informed about our plans and priorities. Last year at this time, I reported modest gains to McKnight’s endowment in 2009, with anticipation that it will take years for the Foundation’s resources to recoup recession-related investment losses. As we continue to recover financially, I am pleased to tell you that McKnight plans to invest about $94 million in grantmaking in 2011, roughly on par with our grantmaking forecast for 2010.

In setting grant payout levels for 2011, McKnight’s board of directors balanced several factors, including our commitment to innovation and quality, maintaining strong momentum toward program goals, and providing sound stewardship of the Foundation’s assets. For the third year, we will draw a larger than usual percentage from McKnight’s endowment.

Many exciting developments in 2010 will resonate throughout 2011, as McKnight’s staff and board continue to pursue programmatic and operational excellence.

Earlier this month, I was pleased to announce the decision of McKnight’s board to create a new nonprofit to manage future investments in support of out-of-school time programs and field development. With a terrific start-up board of directors now in place, the new organization will hire a president in early 2011. This effort builds on McKnight’s long history with intermediary regranting partners such as the Family Housing Fund, Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, the Minnesota Initiative Foundations, and the ClimateWorks Foundation. Positioned to leverage our support while bringing increased attention and capital to this important field, this new partner will offer an effective funding strategy to serve and empower Twin Cities youth.

Throughout 2010, we placed a high priority on maximizing community development benefits in planning around the Central Corridor rail line and other key transit corridors. Early this year, McKnight’s collaboration with regional philanthropic partners helped ensure local funding for three additional, community-requested light rail stops along the Central Corridor. We were pleased to partner with the Metropolitan Council and others to secure $5 million in federal funds for transit planning. McKnight also collaborated with the Saint Paul Foundation and many public and private partners to bring $16 million in grants and loans for high-quality transit development and better opportunities for low-income people in the Twin Cities metro, through Living Cities’ national Integration Initiative. Going beyond the important financial resources, such aligned investments signal our region’s active engagement in a promising national approach to comprehensive planning and development that strategically integrates housing, transit, economic development, and land use.

Also this year, McKnight’s board and staff made strides in developing our education and learning program strategies. Building on more than a decade of McKnight support for early childhood and kindergarten-readiness in Minnesota, the new program will extend a pathway from pre-kindergarten through third grade to improve early literacy in the Twin Cities. After a year in which we met with regional early literacy leaders, established an expert national advisory committee to guide the work, and hired a program director, we will announce our formal funding approach to this important work in early 2011.

Importantly, the year marked our transition to online grant applications for grantseekers. We discovered some bumps in the road as we honed our online process, and feedback from grantseekers has led to many improvements. Ongoing, anonymous surveys continue to provide useful insights and indicate generally positive reactions to the new process. As we add online grant reporting to the mix in 2011, we will continue to be in touch and appreciative of grantees’ feedback.

Even as we celebrate our shared successes in 2010, we know that much important work lies before us. As a new governor and legislature take office in Minnesota, the state faces a huge structural deficit. Foundations, including McKnight, will play our part in supporting quality research and impactful programs, and forging new strategies that fit the changing context. We will work with partners to foster civic, civil, and informed discussion of key issues, and advocate for long-term solutions that share opportunities and responsibilities equitably across the population.

Looking beyond Minnesota’s borders, farm runoff and other pollution along the Mississippi River continue to inflame a Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico far more persistent than last spring’s terrible oil spill. Volatile droughts and floods endanger ecosystems and food security in developing countries, signaling human-induced climate change’s early impact, calling for swift, coordinated responses.

Facing such challenges, our collective work depends on our successful partnerships. Our outstanding grantees and program partners strive to maintain critically important support for artists, regional development, education, the environment, healthy food systems, and more.

McKnight counts on our regional grantees and community partners to foster the greatest outcomes through collaboration, innovation, and advocacy. We are equally grateful for our strong public partners at local, state, and regional levels, helping to share knowledge and align resources across traditional geographic or political boundaries. And we depend on national and international partners to join us in support of policies, systems, and practices that benefit people, places, and the environment.

In all our work and throughout the communities we support together, we remain profoundly appreciative of such partnerships and of the important work of organizations like yours.



Kate Wolford