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Our Voice: Kate Wolford: Appreciation for grantee efforts, and 2012 grantmaking forecast

January 2012 - Open letter to McKnight's grantees from foundation president Kate Wolford.

As we enter 2012, I want to thank all of The McKnight Foundation's grantees and other partners. I also want to update you on McKnight's program priorities.

One year ago, I reported that it would take years for the Foundation to recoup recession-related investment losses. Amid continued financial volatility, I am pleased to tell you McKnight plans to invest about $95 million in grantmaking in 2012, roughly on par with our grantmaking in 2011. This decision reflects our board's commitment to providing sound stewardship of Foundation assets while sustaining momentum across programs.

Without our grantees, the Foundation could not advance our ambitious goals for more socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable communities in Minnesota and across the globe. United by our values and a steadfast commitment to sound strategies and high-quality relationships, we pursue results across a range of topic areas.

Strong communities begin by getting children on a constructive pathway from cradle to career. McKnight has long supported research and field-building for kindergarten readiness. But even when children are ready, we often see initial gains fall away because our K-3 system isn't ready to maintain the pace. To increase the percentage of Twin Cities' students reading at grade level by third grade, we are working with several districts to build a seamless preK-3rd transition for children, their parents, and teachers, as well as to provide robust literacy assessment and instruction. The Foundation has partnered with the Urban Education Institute of the University of Chicago to lead implementation of this work, bringing deep practitioner expertise and research-based tools to our local districts and community partners. We are thrilled that in the final weeks of 2011, three federal education grants were announced to boost early education efforts in Minnesota. This presents a tremendous opportunity to raise the bar and close the achievement gap so that all our state's children get an early start and stay on track.

Echoing a need for urgent action, "Today is the day" is the clarion call of Youthprise, a new intermediary that McKnight launched in 2011 to accelerate learning beyond the classroom. With youth at the center, and strong and growing relationships with public entities, nonprofits, and funders across the state, today is indeed the day to ignite passion for quality learning opportunities for Minnesota's youth. Check it out at!

While strong communities start with successful children and youth, McKnight works on multiple fronts to sustain regional growth by fostering vital neighborhoods, affordable housing for all, the preservation of open space, and effective public transportation options. Through dynamic collaborations combining roles and resources across public, private, and nonprofit sectors, McKnight is working to increase equity and shared economic impact of new transit investments "beyond the rail." Our partners include the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, Living Cities, and the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Minnesota's individual artists and vibrant arts community are also core to our home state's identity as a great place to live, work, and (re)create. McKnight's arts program nurtures an environment in which artists can thrive. In 2012, the McKnight Artist Fellowships program will celebrate 30 years of making awards to individual artists in 12 disciplines. And we continue to support creative placemaking through local anchors such as All My Relations Gallery along Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis and the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent on University Avenue in St. Paul, as well as through our participation in ArtPlace, a national public-private collaboration.

Leading the way for economic development, early childhood success, and regional vitality throughout Greater Minnesota are the Minnesota Initiative Foundations, launched by McKnight 25 years ago. The credibility and impact of these six independent foundations are a daily reminder of the wisdom of investing in local leaders and making long-term commitments to organizational capacity, as well as program or project support.

Continents apart, the Mississippi and the Mekong rivers share global significance as waterways that traverse geographic and political boundaries, support incredible biodiversity, and sustain livelihoods and cultural identity. Although McKnight's program goals for each river are specific to their context, in both cases we work with individual grantees and collaboratives in multiple regions to promote policies that protect the river and the people and places that depend on it.

Our international work also includes grantmaking to improve women's livelihoods in East Africa, as well as core support for the McKnight Collaborative Crop Research Program in South America and Africa. Through region-specific learning communities, researchers, farmers, and development groups share findings and generate new knowledge to improve the productivity and nutritional value of indigenous crops, while also addressing soil and pest management. In the meantime in the U.S., McKnight also supports innovative research on memory and cognitive disorders through the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. Guided by a board of distinguished neuroscientists, neuroscience funding includes support for technology to monitor, manipulate, and model brain function at all levels, from the molecular to the holistic.

Three years ago, I announced McKnight's unprecedented $100 million commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. We helped launch ClimateWorks Foundation, a global network making significant gains in carbon abatement. Other grantees across the Midwest lead aligned strategies for cleaner air and energy efficiency, providing significant health, economic, and environmental benefits. We seek to galvanize other partners and public will to address this issue with urgency. 

The McKnight Foundation continues to set ambitious goals. Together with partners, we learn and adapt to remain relevant and effective in the midst of changing circumstances. With a new year taking hold, I want to close by expressing profound respect on behalf of The McKnight Foundation's board of directors and staff for the results our grantees have achieved in 2011, and our sincere thanks for your continued partnership.


Kate Wolford