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Third generation ‘pay it forward’ giving: a Q&A with Blythe Brenden

The philanthropist is shaking up giving to enable smaller nonprofits to pursue creative and innovative projects.

Blythe Brenden

Q: You are a third generation philanthropist who is making your mark on both old and new nonprofit organizations. What inspires your philanthropic giving?

A: There are many sources for my inspiration but certainly, the legacy from my mother, Dr. Roberta Mann, and my grandfather, Ted Mann, are among them. I get a great deal of inspiration from others working hard to improve their communities.  Some of them are featured in Generocity on my website, a new sharing site. For example, Josh Stevens launched a foundation to encourage kids and adults to show kindness to each other – he did this after the untimely death of his young son. This month (September), I am launching the Innovation Fund to provide resources for smaller nonprofit organizations where a grant will enable them to pursue creative and innovative projects they’ve not been able to consider without new funding.

Q: How does your new Innovation Fund fit into your personal philosophy?

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A: I have been a donor, and an active engaged leader with some of the region’s largest nonprofit organizations, and I’ve also been lucky to be in on the ground floor of new, emerging nonprofits. I’ve learned that new organizations and pilot programs can be great sources of fresh ideas – but it is so difficult to take those risks when an organization is stretched to simply keep the doors open. I want to help those organizations take some creative risks – to really go for it when they believe in something. That’s what my grandfather was able to do many years ago; his creative risk taking has made a huge difference in our community that we are still enjoying today.

Q: What advice would you have for nonprofit leaders for reaching new funders?

A: Few donors, myself included, want to be treated like a checkbook. I am interested in getting engaged with organizations and causes I care about.  I want to learn more about an organizations mission and how my support and engagement will advance that mission before being asked for a larger gift. Today, funders should be regarded as investors, and they expect to see a return on that investment.  Make sure that donors get frequent progress reports to keep them informed about the impact of their investment. Don’t wait for the donor to ask for it.

Q: How can today’s nonprofits increase engagement with volunteers and their community?

A: For many people, being connected to a cause or organization is more than just going to an event or sitting on a board. It is being a part of the process and on a much deeper level. Nonprofits should find new ways to connect with the community and engage them by allowing them to be involved in a meaningful way. Think about the expertise you need to be effective – is it financial management? Legal? Marketing? Construction? Health care knowledge or language fluency?  It’s important to offer “skilled volunteer” opportunities; we all have something to contribute; it’s just about finding the right fit. Volunteer management, including recognition, is an important role within an organization and shouldn’t be overlooked. It may not rise to a separate job title – but it needs to be someone’s focus with the nonprofit because donated time is a valuable resource. It shouldn’t be left to chance.  The bonus is that research also shows that those who are volunteers and close to an organization are the most likely to support it financially as well.

Q: What should grant-seekers know before applying for a grant of any type from the Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation?

A: Grant seekers should review the information we have on the website Go to ‘Giving’ and you will  find the application process for The Innovation Fund. It’s fairly straightforward, but adherence to the parameters will keep it fair for all (parameters include that organizations be a 501c3 organizations based in Minnesota, less than 5 years old and budgets less than $1 million.)

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Q: What are some ways you are helping to pass the torch to a new generation of philanthropists?

A: I try to be an active mentor and I am always ready to talk with others about their philanthropic interests, whether they have time, talent or treasure to contribute. All are important and at different points in our lives, we might have more of one than another to give.  I continue to be active in some of our community’s more visible cultural organizations like the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Cowles Center, but my involvement is aimed at helping them connect with new audiences and donors. If we want the arts to stay alive in our communities, we can’t keep reaching out to audiences or donors in the same ways that worked for past generations. Social media has changed the way we connect, engage and communicate.

I also like to be a bridge to help younger people understand where we’ve come from and to connect them to a rich past. For example, The Cowles Center is creating a room that would pass on the incredible history of that building and city. I’ve been a part of this project from the start. It’s also special to me because my grandfather, Ted Mann, owned the building for many years.  

Applications to the Innovation Fund are being accepted in September and October. 
To apply online, visit:

Q: You’ve also launched Generocity – what is that?

A: Generocity is intended to be a place to share inspiration, ideas or projects about people, organizations and companies doing good things.  It is also a place I can pass it on. I share ideas there and encourage others to share too. For example, two books I like are; “Do More than Give, and “How Great Women Lead.” You will find more information about those books, and more in the Generocity section of my web site.

In ‘Inspirations’, I give a shout-out to the Bravewell Collaborative of philanthropists dedicated to support Integrative Medicine. That’ something I’m passionate about and an area I believe will continue to impact the future of health care for decades to come.

Generocity is intended to be a public space. I really look forward to hearing what others are excited about and where they find inspiration.

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Q: What’s the best way for people to share those ideas with you?

To submit ideas to Generocity, visit:

I’d love to hear from the inspiring people within the Pollen community! 

This article was originally published at