Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Cindy Serratore 2016 Outstanding Community Builder

Cindy Serratore, 2016 Outstanding Community Builder

The Northwest Minnesota Women’s Fund recently named Cindy Serratore of Bemidji as a 2016 Outstanding Community Builder. Outstanding Community Builder Awards are presented to women from the region who have demonstrated leadership in improving their communities in their chosen professions, as volunteers, as mentors and in raising or supporting families. A reception in Serratore’s honor was held September 26th at the Mayflower Building in Bemidji.

You can read more about Cindy's contributions to her community at, under NMF News, or click here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Race Equity is Important in Northwest Minnesota

Nate Dorr - Program Officer - Grants

It’s true Native Americans make up the vast majority of northwest Minnesota’s people of color. However, the number of foreign-born residents continues to increase. Many of the challenges among diverse racial groups are preserving cultural heritage or identity, overcoming systemic barriers, and creating a shared understanding to engage all members of our communities.

Although the portion of people of color in northwest Minnesota is lower than Minnesota as a whole (roughly 15% in NW MN vs. 18.4% MN) , these rates are both significant and growing steadily since 2000, using data sourced from Minnesota Compass.

NMF's Community Connections Grants Program supported a variety of community-led initiatives centered on race equity in the last year. These recent grants speak to the diversity and rich cultural heritage of our region.

Bemidji Area Indian Center began a program to restore traditional Ojibwe food systems and cultural practices. They will organize participants around seasonal activities, engage the public during special events, and share cultural practices to help enrich the lives of Whites and people of color. A grant from NMF and Blandin Foundation helped them hire their first paid staff to deliver this grassroots programming.

Voices for Racial Justice hosted several community meetings this year to discuss how to overcome racial disparities. This work quickly grew beyond people sharing intimate stories of discrimination and personal struggles, to include the important work of crafting policies and practices that we can enact locally. This group includes individuals self-identifying as Anishinabe (Ojibwe), Latino and Latina, White Anglo, and African American populations in rural northern Minnesota.

Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota opened an office in Moorhead to begin serving individuals and families in northwest Minnesota. They are working with immigrant communities in Crookston, East Grand Forks, Roseau, Thief River Falls, and the Bemidji area. 

With grant support from NMF and Blandin Foundation, staff from the Immigrant Law Center help clients maintain documentation for work or student visas, navigate refugee status issues, enforce the Violence Against Women Act, and provide education services. The center is a critical link between the local community and the international communities of our immigrant populations.

Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota was recently invited to work in Warroad. Sunny Chanthanouvong, Executive Director, has brought Lao college students and elders to Warroad from the Minneapolis metro to share in their experiences around community engagement. They visited the Buddhist temple, met with Warroad Laotian students in the K-12 system, and met with local officials and community members to open pathways for dialogue. They hope to establish a youth leadership program, host tours of colleges, and work with the aging population in the Warroad area.

NMF is proud to partner with Blandin Foundation in co-funding many of the projects described above here in northwest Minnesota. Current efforts around racial equity, diversity, and inclusion have been championed by many organizations with a wider reach, like the Minnesota Council on Foundations, Native Americans in Philanthropy, and major funders like Bush Foundation, Blandin Foundation, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, and McKnight Foundation. Our collective hope is to practice empowerment within and alongside marginalized communities.

Photo: House District 5A Rep. John Persell (left) receiving a “Champion for Racial Equity” from Vina Kay, Executive Director of Voices for Racial Justice (right). Photo credit Walker Pilot Independent, 2015

Monday, July 11, 2016

Northwest Minnesota Foundation Receives a Significant Donation

The most welcome news was relayed to Northwest Minnesota Foundation President Nancy Vyskocil. It was revealed that Charles Swanson, a Red Lake Falls, MN farmer bequeathed a gift of just over $360,000 to NMF. 

Charles Swanson

“We regularly receive donations supporting our 345 component funds,” Vyskocil said, “but it isn’t often that such a large gift is given to support the overall work the foundation does within the region. Growth in our endowment allows us to continue to address changing needs.”

Upon learning of Swanson’s generosity “the development team and I could not contain our delight,” Vyskocil added. “It is gratifying when people choose to help us fulfill our mission to make the region a better place to live and work. We will honor this gift and represent the values and hard work of Charles Swanson.”

Swanson was born in 1926 in Red Lake Falls and attended church and high school in St. Hilaire, MN. He graduated in 1947 from the Northwest School of Agriculture in Crookston, MN, where he participated in basketball, track and band.

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II then returned home to run the Swanson family farm, which bordered Red Lake and Pennington Counties. Swanson raised livestock, small grains, and enjoyed the farm life.

In his spare time, he liked reading, bird-watching and traveling. Long-time Red Lake Falls resident Allen Bertilrud said that Swanson was not well known; he was a quiet, private man who kept mostly to himself.

Swanson’s financial advisor, Pat Thibert of Edward Jones was instrumental in connecting Swanson to NMF after learning of his desire to leave a legacy that would benefit Northwest Minnesota.

Lisa Peterson, NMF senior development officer said the staff is grateful to have good working relationships with professional advisors in the region. “Many people learn about how they can partner with the work done at NMF through our network of accountants, financial institutions and attorneys,” Peterson said. “It’s wonderful when a person like Charles comes forward to help us with such a generous bequest. It will continue to improve the quality of life in our region for years to come.”

NMF works collaboratively with development staff from a range of foundations and nonprofits to educate professional advisors, including investment managers, accountants, financial planners, insurance brokers and attorneys. Low-cost workshops are held around the 12-County region that feature speakers who have proven expertise in common gifting methods along with knowledge about the latest legal and tax implications for charitable giving. Oftentimes, professional continuing education credits are also available to benefit the participants by providing inexpensive and time saving training that fills their requirements.

It is a worthwhile investment when a financial planner like Thibert puts the pieces together for a very meaningful gift that meets his client’s bequest objectives.

Monday, May 23, 2016

What's Behind the Numbers?

Financial summaries and financial position statements always take up large sections of annual reports. NMF’s recently published Fiscal Year 2015 annual report is no different. There are plenty of numbers, but little explanation. 

Thanks are due to Sandy King, our long-time colleague, friend and partner at West Central Initiative, for helping come up with the ideas here that provide great information about annual reports and foundation endowment structure.

The last two NMF annual reports have been redesigned with less text and more graphics. Besides cutting down on length, the new format met our goals of producing a vivid picture of NMF’s financial status, an easily understood look at our program impact, and a snapshot of our gains in raising funds for the region.

Upon reading the financial section, you may be wondering “Why does NMF have over $63 million in assets?”

Over 65 percent of the assets represent philanthropy – both in terms of NMF’s general endowment and our 345 component and community funds. Of the remaining 35 percent, over 30 percent is restricted for our programs, which include economic development, nonprofit training and capacity building, and program grants. The remaining five percent represents special projects and long-term capital assets, such as NMF’s facility. And, what does this mean? And why can’t we just give all the money away?

Northwest Minnesota Foundation is governed and lives by the rules set forth by the State of Minnesota and the Internal Revenue Service. Since our inception in 1986, NMF has operated as a public charity. Under this designation NMF must raise over 33 percent of our income from the general public. NMF’s current public support far surpasses that number! Each of the many gifts given by our partner organizations and individuals is designated towards a specific use as directed by the donor. Gifts come in many different sizes and with many different structures. NMF exercises our due diligence and follows the rules set forth by our governing structure.

Philanthropy represents the largest percentage of our overall assets primarily because it includes NMF’s permanently restricted endowment fund. In addition, NMF administers more than 345 component and community funds. Their resources are also included in this classification.

NMF’s unrestricted endowment is the financial backbone that supports the many ways we invest resources in our communities for regional success. We began building the endowment as a permanent asset for the region based on the guidance and encouragement of The McKnight Foundation.

Since the early 1990s The McKnight Foundation has offered a matching contribution toward gifts received to build a permanent asset for the region. Over the past two decades, 550+ donors have helped grow the endowment fund to its current level. The unrestricted endowment is YOUR KEY to financial resources for generations to come. Not only are the earnings from the endowment put to work each year to provide current resources to northwestern Minnesota, but the goal of the endowment is to be a long-term, flexible resource for the region – for good, forever.

You can be a part of this ongoing, 30-year philanthropic story. Please consider joining our Circle of Giving with an annual gift of $500 by donating online. We will honor your special commitment with prominent recognition on our website, in our publications, and at our events.

Thank you for your interest in Northwest Minnesota Foundation – we are excited about the future of our region based on our own financial growth, the programs it allows us to continue, and the strength of our partnerships and positive leadership in our rural communities.


Thanks for reading,

Lisa Peterson, NMF Senior Development Officer

Monday, May 16, 2016

Introducing Vital Nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations continue to experience changes in board and executive leadership, expanding or contracting missions, challenges and necessity for collaboration, financial stability, and shifting community need for services. Identifying, addressing and planning for these emerging and shifting needs is vitally important for the health of nonprofit organizations and the communities served by the Northwest Minnesota Foundation.

In order to invest in and build the long term sustainability of the region’s nonprofit organizations, NMF is introducing Vital Nonprofits. This is a new delivery method for nonprofit capacity building services. The program will assist nonprofits to meet their missions through targeted and intensive training, assessment, technical assistance, coaching and peer executive and board learning sessions.

The application process is competitive. NMF will intensely invest in the growth and development of up to five nonprofit organizations over a two-year period. Applicants will be chosen based on need, variety of budget sizes and geographic location.

Please join us for a Vital Nonprofits "Lunch and Learn" at one of these locations.

11:30 AM – 1:30 PM each day

May 13 – Park Rapids

May 16 – Crookston

May 17 – Roseau

May 18 – Bemidji

May 19 – Thief River Falls

Lunch will be provided, so please RSVP with Chris Bell by calling 218-759-2057.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Poverty Efforts Across the Region

Nate Dorr, Program Officer Grants 

Poverty is one of those huge, complex societal challenges.  It tends to be geographically localized, either by neighborhood or portions of a county (i.e. Mahnomen, Beltrami, and Clearwater counties).  

It is often generational. A child born into poverty is more likely to remain in poverty into adulthood.  Although it is pervasive across all ethnicities, people of color are more likely to be in poverty.  Philanthropic and nonprofit groups have often been called out for “admiring the problem” of poverty.  Even with all these government programs and nonprofits, what does it take to make even the smallest improvements in poverty data? 

Minnesota Compass data for our 12-county region shows an estimated 14.6% of the 170,450 people living in our region are at or below the Federal poverty line (estimated at 24,886 people).  This percent is above the Minnesota rate of 11.2% for the same time period, and an increase from northwest Minnesota’s rate of 11.5% in 2000.  

The income poverty line for 2016 is between $11,770 for a single person to $24,250 for a family of four.  Northwest Minnesota Foundation recently made grants to move the needle on reducing poverty.  Here you will get a glimpse into NMF’s Caring Communities Grant Program activities over the last few months.

The Minnesota Asset Building Coalition received an NMF grant to convene low-income individuals across the region.  Their guided conversations will inform policymakers locally and at the state capitol.  The group is struggling to narrow down to one issue because all the issues are important and interwoven. 

From their rural perspective; job creation, affordable housing, jobs and housing for felons, transportation, child care, youth support to succeed in school, cultural implications, mental health, and other public health issues are all at the top of the list.  This group will soon embark on a community survey to capture a larger community voice.  They will then deliver their message and solutions to policy makers.

NMF also recently funded a Bridges Out of Poverty effort in Park Rapids.  The school district and other partners had many meetings to find out how to match unemployed people with a large number of job openings.  From those discussions, they brought in a Ruby Payne-trained facilitator to develop a common platform for action.  Their hope is to move individuals from poverty to self-sufficiency, reduce the social costs of poverty, strengthen job skills and educational attainment, and improve on-the-job productivity.  Working groups are meeting to develop an action plan for the Park Rapids area.

Another community-based approach has grown roots in the Bemidji area.  Peacemaker Resources was granted funds to convene organizations and lead activities using a University of Washington Communities That Care model.  The model digs deeper into youth development and reducing risk factors for youth. 

Partner agencies like the Boys and Girls Club, the police and sheriff departments, tribal governments, schools, and mental health providers are opening lines of communication and brainstorming ways to collaborate.  Much of this work is to help youth cope with self-defeating behaviors that often undercut their ability to become self-sufficient adults.  Alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and other negative risk-taking behaviors can quickly derail student achievement and job prospects.

Asking, “How do we move the needle on poverty data?” is more than a rhetorical question. A correct response involves long-term commitment and strong partnerships.  Yes, individuals need self-sufficiency skills and dedication to make improvements in their lives.  And yes, government and nonprofit programs need to be more creative and responsive, and also need more funds to deliver services. 

Still, people facing poverty cannot afford adequate housing, reliable transportation, or quality childcare.  These are essential market barriers that inhibit a person’s ability to make improvements.  Because this is a complex issue, we begin by seeking to understand the stories of those in poverty.  From there, we can build ladders and bridges out of poverty.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Business Development Program

Robert Maher was recently in Waubun, meeting with a potential new customer. Our business development department works with a variety of businesses and our loan officers are always prepared to meet with potential customers.

NMF's business development program has two different loan programs. The Entrepreneur Development Program can be used to finance up to $35,000 of project costs including inventory, working capital and equipment purchases. The Business Finance Program is used to finance larger projects up to $300,000. The business program can be used to finance working capital, inventory, equipment purchases and real estate purchases.

If you are looking for more information about applying for a business loan through our Business Development Department please do not hesitate to call Robert Maher, 218.759.2057 or toll free MN 800.659.7859.