Beyond the Data: Community-Informed Philanthropy

Stacks on stacks on stacks of East Metro Pulse reports

From our Spring 2017 MNSights Magazine


Soon after joining The Saint Paul and Minnesota Community Foundations, I marveled at a sweeping view of the Saint Paul skyline. As I took in the vibrant city I’m proud to be a citizen of, I wondered whether others saw the same opportunities I did, or whether obstacles I didn’t perceive changed their view? What did others see that I could not?

Our perspective shapes where and when we see opportunities and a single view isn’t enough to measure all the possibilities of a thriving region. Only when we involve multiple perspectives do we gain the benefit of shared community wisdom. At the Foundations, we can generate solutions to community issues, but unless those who stand to benefit from this work shape it, sustainable change will not take root and grow.

By asking three questions, we can make sure we’re building a community together.

1. Who forms the work? What is the genesis of the community need that our foundation and our donors wish to tackle? Who raised the issue and who is driving solutions? Why are we addressing it now?

2. Who informs the work? As we work in partnership with change agents and agencies of change, who is at the table making sure we’re delivering solutions that will get at the root of the issue as defined by the community? How do we leverage the social and financial capital to engage those that are most deeply affected?

3. Who benefits from the work? How do we define the end result of our work? How can we ensure we’re defining the opportunity for change in the context of those we’re here to serve?

As a community, we have troves of demographic data about our community but a dearth of information about how its members experience that community. Through the results of our inaugural East Metro Pulse, we gain important insight into how thousands of people from different backgrounds think about the community and opportunities for improvement to get at the true meaning of how we should form and inform our work.

In this issue, you’ll read about community members’ perspectives that may differ from yours. I invite you to celebrate the similarities we hold and respect the differences we discover as we endeavor to strengthen the fabric of this community we love.

Confucius said, “Tell people and they may forget. Show them and they may remember. But involve them and they will understand.”

Philanthropy without involvement can be a virtuous and positive transaction, but a transaction nonetheless. Philanthropy with involvement is a gift that will continue to produce long after the money is spent.

—Eric J. Jolly, Ph.D., President and CEO, The Saint Paul and Minnesota Community Foundations

Portrait photo of President and CEO Eric J. Jolly, Ph.D.

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