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Our Voice: Kate Wolford: Appreciation for grantee efforts and 2013 grantmaking forecast

​January 9, 2013 - Letter from President Kate Wolford: Appreciation for grantee efforts and 2013 grantmaking forecast.

As we enter a new year, I want to thank The McKnight Foundation’s grantees and program partners and update you on McKnight’s priorities for 2013. Much of the power and impact of our work derives from the quality of our relationships with people closest to the issues we address. Our grantees are vital contributors, and we believe shared understanding among our partners helps everyone to work more effectively together.
I am pleased to report that McKnight’s core giving of $79 million in 2013 will be on par with recent years. As our endowment continues to recover slowly from the economic downturn, we will hold steady our funding in support of the arts and artists, education and learning, Mississippi River resilience, sustainable regional growth, statewide rural economic and community development, neuroscience and collaborative crop research, and community development in Southeast Asia.

Beyond the forecasted $79 million, in coming months we will also finalize grants for the remaining $25 million of our initial $100 million commitment to mitigate climate change and encourage renewable energy development. With impacts from climate change already being felt worldwide, our board of directors this year strongly reaffirmed its commitment to grantmaking that accelerates the transition to a clean energy economy. We will share updates online as decisions are made regarding the Foundation’s future energy- and climate-related spending.
Such strategic attention to shifting external trends is a real-world example of McKnight’s Strategic Framework in action. Released publicly in mid-2012, the McKnight Strategic Framework was developed by the Foundation’s board and staff to guide our work during the next three years. Rather than a collection of new ideas or a traditional “strategic plan” detailing specific activities in a given timeframe, our framework offers a sense of how we approach our work every day — grounded in adaptive leadership, an approach that we believe is essential when dealing with complex issues that defy simple or siloed solutions. It lays out our board and staff’s shared mission, values, and approach to guide the Foundation, and it provides coherence across the organization while honoring the diversity of program goals and structures.
We define “adaptive leadership” as strategic agility that is informed by constant examination of the communities we serve and fields in which we work, looking for trends and patterns that could impact our ability to reach goals. The practice drives us to consider the best alternatives in all situations, always with an eye toward opportunistic efforts for innovation and leverage. Examples are apparent throughout key program developments at McKnight in 2012.
At the center of the Region & Communities program is a core belief that sustainable and equitable metropolitan development requires cooperation and alignment across a variety of systems and interests. With updated funding guidelines released in 2012, McKnight concentrates on strategies for integrative, sustainable regional planning and development; affordable housing strategies to benefit all Minnesotans; and the promotion of economically vibrant neighborhoods. In 2012, to highlight the crucial role of design and architecture in the creation of affordable housing that is good both for people and for place, McKnight announced our first annual AIA Minnesota/McKnight Foundation Affordable HousingDesign Award recipient: Cermak Rhoades Architects, recognized for its Higher Ground Homeless Shelter and Permanent Housing Project in Minneapolis. Also in 2012, McKnight was pleased to co-fund the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies’ report Maximizing the return on transitway investment, emphasizing strategies to ensure that the network of 14 Twin Cities transitways planned for 2030 achieves its greatest potential. Dr. Yingling Fan’s research breaks new ground in linking job access, equity, and economic development, with one key finding that concentrating development near transitway stations leads to measurable gains in job accessibility — especially beneficial for populations with lower incomes.
In the past year, McKnight’s relatively new Education & Learning preK-3rd grade literacy focus began to hit its stride. Only a few years ago, Minnesota had been unable to gain traction on efforts to improve early learning services; by 2011, however, our state was awarded three large, highly competitive federal grants to fund important efforts including quality care and education for pre-kindergarten children. Co-funded by McKnight in 2012, Into the Fray by the Foundation for Child Development, New York, is an independent case study about the philanthropic efforts in Minnesota that led to a statewide sea change in early education investments. It tells a story of Minnesota funders, including McKnight, who mobilized stakeholders for high-impact early learning investments, guiding Minnesota’s successful pursuit of federal early education grants totaling nearly $90 million. Our regional experience offers important national lessons for those working to advance the cause of early childhood education. In the Twin Cities, with new grants totaling over $9 million, McKnight is now working with three metropolitan school districts and two charter schools to create a seamless pipeline from pre-kindergarten through grade 3, and increase the percentage of successful third grade readers. At school sites in Minneapolis Public Schools, Saint Paul Public Schools, and Brooklyn Center School District, as well as the charter schools Community of Peace Academy and Academia Cesar Chavez, McKnight supports high-quality literacy development, including data-driven strategies to improve classroom instruction. According to metrics compiled by the Urban Education Institute, a majority of Brooklyn Center students demonstrated a full year’s worth of accelerated literacy progress by just February in the 2011-2012 school year, through use of the initiative’s tools and resources.
In March, the Environment program celebrated the State of Louisiana’s acquisition of 33,000 acres of critically important Louisiana coastal wetlands within the Lake Maurepas/Pontchartrain Basin, about an hour northwest of New Orleans. The purchase from two private land owners was facilitated by The Conservation Fund and made possible by $6.5 million in McKnight program-related investment loan funds; after acquisition, loan funds are repaid to McKnight for reuse in future grants or investments. Located adjacent to the Mississippi River, the forested Pontchartrain swamp is a critical habitat for threatened bird species, and its acquisition will prevent further wetland development while enabling additional projects to restore even more acres of coastal wetlands. And this fall, McKnight co-funded the State of the River report, a collaborative project of Friends of the Mississippi River and the National Park Service, highlighting 13 indicators of river health to help non-scientists understand how McKnight and our environmental partners along the river are doing to improve water quality and river health. With a main focus on the 72 miles of Mississippi winding through the Twin Cities, the report’s Stewardship Guide offers insights and suggestions for everyone to share responsibility in protecting this crucially important national waterway that provides drinking water for 18 million people, as well as wildlife habitat, transportation, and recreation.
Since 1983, McKnight has invested nearly $25 million to support some of the most vulnerable and marginalized people and communities in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Over the past three decades, the Foundation’s Southeast Asia program has adapted strategies to address shifting regional politics, economics, and environmental conditions, while always maintaining a central, place-based focus on deep, productive relationships with local non-governmental and community-based organizations. Recently, McKnight engaged The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI) to assess our Southeast Asia program, with a focus on its unique origins, evolution, and key “pivot points” over 30 years. TPI interviewed past and current members of McKnight’s board of directors, staff, consultants, and grantees involved at various stages in the program’s lifespan; reviewed years of related reports and documentation; and analyzed grantmaking patterns. The program’s history provides insights into effective family philanthropy, melding personal family connections and hopes for war-affected communities with deep expertise to evolve strategies as needs change. Separately, TPI surveyed our recent Southeast Asia grantees to learn about their experience with McKnight and to gather information that will help us be a better partner to our grantees in the future. Both the program’s historical overview and an executive summary of the grantee survey results are on our website.
The overarching goal of McKnight’s Arts program is to support an environment in which artists are valued leaders in our community, with access to the resources and opportunities they need to succeed. In 2012, we recognized the McKnight Artist Fellowships program’s 30th anniversary, celebrating more than 1,500 fellowships since 1982. Currently, we invest about $1.7 million each year in support of fellowship programs run by nonprofit partners representing 12 different arts media. To honor the special anniversary, McKnight engaged with dozens of creative partners on several projects. Early in the year, we launched the State of the Artist blog, dedicated to “conversations about, among, around, between, by, for, and with artists,” with guest posts by regional and national thought leaders and critics. In June, McKnight invited all artist fellows since the program’s creation to join us for an evening of site-specific visual and performance works commissioned by former fellows, as well as remarks by National Endowment for the Arts chair Rocco Landesman and nationally renowned storyteller Kevin Kling. An event slideshow is posted on Facebook. And in September, McKnight launched a companion website at — an interactive database of graphical interpretations of artists’ careers, pulling data directly from individual artists’ résumés and professional histories.
The many links to online resources throughout this letter are no afterthought. In addition to our focus on adaptive leadership, McKnight’s Strategic Framework places a heavy emphasis on strengthening program influence and impact by intensifying our efforts to share relevant knowledge throughout the networks in which we operate. In 2012 we launched a new website at, to help us reach out and share important information better. You can also learn about the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience’s support of outstanding scientists and interdisciplinary collaboration at; and learn about the McKnight Collaborative Crop Research Program’s efforts to help smallholder farmers feed their world at And we encourage you to follow the latest updates about McKnight and our grantees on Twitter and Facebook.
While McKnight’s Strategic Framework allows freedom in what we do to adapt to external shifts, it also makes powerful promises about how we work: We support the people, places, and possibilities that help our state and our world create a more vibrant future for everyone. And it is through daily collaboration with hundreds of key partners in Minnesota and around the world that The McKnight Foundation achieves core objectives in pursuit of our mission. In this, we are grateful for your good work and for your continued partnership.

Kate Wolford