Crisis responders: the state’s ingenious nonprofits, which have navigated a year like no other


In Minnesota, we have a creative, resourceful, and resilient nonprofit sector and extraordinarily generous donors who recognize and support the vital work they do. As we head into another winter, likely made more difficult for our nonprofit community by the pandemic, we must ensure continued support for the essential services they provide to our community.

Dr Eric J. Jolly

The onset of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 has disrupted the capacity of nonprofits of all kinds – arts and culture, social services, youth development, education, programs for the elderly, mental health, housing stability and more – to fulfill their missions and serve their target communities. In the midst of this crisis, the trauma and turmoil following the murder of George Floyd has only exacerbated the urgent need to address our state’s worrying racial disparities in health and well-being, economic, educational and homeownership opportunities – work in which so many nonprofits in our state are constructively engaged.

To help meet the need, private philanthropists, the business community and our state’s foundations have come together. At the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, contributions to our donor-advised funds reached record levels in 2020, helping to enable grants totaling more than $ 100 million to some 9,000 organizations, initiatives and projects. In March 2020, a broad coalition of family, community, and business foundations quickly formed and funded the Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund. This fund ultimately disbursed over $ 11 million statewide, specifically to support recovery and resilience in our nonprofit sector. Working through intermediaries at the community level, the fund has helped support more than 1,700 nonprofit organizations and more than 3,000 businesses statewide.

Our community recognized a need and we all rose to the challenge.

The article continues after the advertisement

While the philanthropic response to the challenges of 2020 was certainly gratifying, the creativity and agility demonstrated by so many nonprofits in these exceptionally difficult times was equally energizing. There are a myriad of examples among the beneficiaries of our foundation of organizations who have recognized the opportunity to reinvent and reinvent themselves amid the impact of the pandemic, trauma and unrest in the community.

Among those examples are two organizations that at first glance might not seem like organizations we would consider crisis responders, but they did respond: Funny Asian Women Kollective (FAWK) and Walker West Music Academy. However, both embraced their roles working at the intersection of art, performance, community, healing and learned to find new ways to engage and support their served communities.

At the FAWK, even as performances were canceled and affiliated artists struggled with the financial consequences, leaders recognized the need to address the increased pandemic-induced xenophobia and violence against Asian Americans – xenophobia that has hit close to home given what some of our own employees and their families have gone through.

FAWK has responded in an irreverent and humorous manner, keeping its anti-racist messages at the forefront through collaborations with other arts and advocacy organizations, moving its anti-racism workshops online, and literally taking its work down. in the street via “trunk shows” performed from the back of a van. “Through comedy and laughter, we were able to help our communities talk about our identities and how to deal with Asian hatred,” said FAWK co-founder May Lee Yang.

At Walker West, 2020 required re-evaluating its commitment to families to determine what they need in the face of the challenges of the year, how Walker West can provide it, and what other services it can offer. Rooted in the African American experience and grounded in their mission to help the community grow and heal through music, they intentionally pivoted into online teaching and online recitals, allowing it to serve students from outside the immediate region, as well as attracting new visitors from as far away as Brazil and Kenya. This pivot was far from being a simple move to online platforms. Rather, it required persistent communication with staff and families, special training for instructors, and the identification and development of new training formats for individual and group lessons, early childhood programs, and Walker’s Amazing Grace Chorus. West. In addition to teaching music, Walker West has successfully adapted to a virtual format to broadcast his Rondo community music series, expanding its reach nationally and internationally.

The foundation’s support for FAWK and Walker West is representative of the work we do on behalf of our donors to support nonprofit organizations in our region of all sizes at all stages of development. We do this to help foster a nonprofit ecosystem that contributes to quality of life, equity and engagement and to ensure that emerging nonprofits, those that grow or reinvent themselves and established organizations all have the potential to thrive. Our Management Improvement Fund, which since 1985 has been assisting nonprofit organizations in their essential capacity building work, such as strategic planning, board development and organizational reviews, also supports this essential work.

As the pandemic persists and progress in reducing racial disparities remains painfully slow, we cannot let fatigue undermine our nonprofit sector. At the foundation, we will continue to work with donors as they remain responsive to the unmet needs of our community, so that our nonprofit sector can continue to innovate, pivot and once again meet the timely challenges we face. as a community.

Eric J. Jolly, Ph.D., is President and CEO of the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, which oversees $ 1.7 billion in charitable assets.


If you would like to participate in the discussion, add your voice to the Comments section below, or consider writing a longer letter or comment from Community Voices. (For more information on Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.