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Study of 15 MN nonprofits shows value of advocacy and community planning

Comprehensive results detail the benefits they provide — including a return on investment of $138 for every dollar spent.

Fifteen Minnesota nonprofit organizations were the focus of a comprehensive study released today, and the results detail the many great benefits they provide state residents.

But the current tough economy provides new challenges, with so many home foreclosures, job losses and racial disparities, concludes the report “Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities; Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in Minnesota.”

A key finding in the report:

When foundations and other donors in Minnesota provided funding to 15 nonprofits to bring about systemic, long-term change, Minnesota’s citizens and communities benefited from a return on that investment of $138 for every dollar spent.

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The study measured the impact of the advocacy and organizing efforts of the 15 nonprofits in Minnesota that received a total of $16.5 million over a five-year period from 2004-2008.

The report was prepared by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. The group describes itself as a national watchdog, research and advocacy organization that promotes philanthropy that serves the public good, is responsive to people and communities with the least wealth and opportunity, and is held accountable to the highest standards of integrity and openness.

Area foundations leaders will meet today in Minneapolis to talk about the report. The 2 p.m. progam at the Minneapolis Depot will feature discussions on how institutions can work with communities, nonprofits and policymakers to improve the quality of life for Minnesotans.

The report’s authors, Gita Gulati-Partee and Lisa Ranghelli, show in the 80-page document that in addition to the leveraging of funds for advocacy and organizing efforts, efforts by the nonprofits also led to less-quantifiable, but equally important, results such as:

  • Students of color and immigrants gained access to college;
  • Formerly incarcerated people improved their job opportunities, increasing individual earning potential and economic benefits to their communities;
  • People living with mental illnesses and their families received greater support and access to care, thus enabling them to lead more productive and fulfilling lives;
  • Workers secured increased wages and better working conditions;
  • Lower-income residents accessed affordable housing and public transit.

Advice to Foundations
The report offers advice to foundations on how they can make “a measurable difference” in these hard economic times, offering these reommendations to help them promote the most good for communities in need, address Minnesota’s challenges and growing racial disparities, and achieve the greatest return on their

  1. Increase the percentage of grant dollars devoted to advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement.
  2. Engage board members and donors in dialogue about how advocacy and organizing can help a grantmaking institution achieve its long-term goals.
  3. Strengthen peer learning and strategizing about advocacy and organizing.
  4. Engage nonprofit partners in strategic planning and grantmaking process of foundations.
  5. Apply a racial equity lens to grantmaking. 
  6. Provide general operating support and multiyear grants.

Co-author Ranghelli, who is a senior associate of NCRP, said: “The report brings the nonprofit perspective to the foundation community and demonstrates how Minnesota grantmakers can build on their success by partnering with communities, policymakers, and national funders to meet the challenges facing the state.”

Jon Pratt, executive director the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, said: “Minnesota’s quality of life has been shaped by many people, often through community organizations with the support of philanthropy,” said Pratt. “Having the resources for people to work together on some of the toughest problems has made a huge difference to this state.”

The groups
The 15 Minnesota non-profit organizations included in the report are:

  • Advocating Change Together
  • Alliance for Metropolitan Stability
  • Centro Campesino
  • Churches United in Ministry
  • Council on Crime and Justice
  • Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
  • Indigenous Peoples Task Force
  • Minnesota AIDS Project
  • Minnesota Minority Education Partnership
  • Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota
  • Range Women’s Advocates
  • Somali Action Alliance
  • Three Rivers Community Action

In past years NCRP has  completed the same research for North Carolina and New Mexico. All the reports can be downloaded at the NCRP site.