Judy Healey, Philanthropic Consultant,
Tim Penny, Southern Minn. Initiative Foundation President, CEO
Partner with foundations; form
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Public
Interview January 20, 2017
John Adams, Steve
Anderson, Dave Broden, Janis Clay (executive director), Pat
Davies, Paul Gilje, Judy Healey, Ron Jacobs, Paul Ostrow
(chair), Tim Penny, Bill Rudelius, Dana Schroeder (associate
chair), Clarence Shallbetter, T. Williams.
As the report recommends, Healey
agrees that Minnesota's foundation community is a place to turn
for help in improving the process for probing causes of
community problems, redefining issues and developing
action-specific solutions. But she says the emphasis should be
on asking the philanthropic community to facilitate the Civic
Caucus recommendations, not asking the foundations to take on
the responsibility for improving the public-policy process on
their own. She believes the Caucus should keep control of its
agenda, rather than handing it over to the foundations. She
suggests that the Civic Caucus seek funding for a pilot project
focused on one specific issue.
Penny cautions that the policy-process
report expects too much of the foundations and lists too many
policy issues that must be addressed. He believes strongly in
the power of coalitions. He urges the Civic Caucus to choose one
important issue and then convene a group of diverse, interested
organizations to form a coalition around a solution to the
Judith Koll Healey
is president of Executive Consulting, a national firm that works
with families of wealth in their philanthropic efforts. She has
been a philanthropic professional for 40 years and served as
executive director of the Minnesota Council on Foundations from
1975 to 1979. She also worked at the General Mills Foundation,
the Northwest Area Foundation, The Saint Paul Foundation and the
Minnesota Community Foundation. She has worked with the national
Council on Foundations and with 95 different foundations around
Healey has written two novels: The
Canterbury Papers (2005) and The Rebel Princess
(2009), both set in medieval France. She wrote the biography Frederick
Weyerhaeuser and the American West (2013) and is also a
published poet and short-fiction writer.
She has a B.A. degree in English and
theater and a B.S. degree in education and speech, both from the
University of Minnesota. She has an M.A. in human development
from St. Mary's University in Minneapolis.
This interview is Healey's second with
the Civic Caucus. Read a summary of her March 16, 2016,
has been president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative
Foundation (SMIF) since April 2007. SMIF serves 20 counties in
southern Minnesota. Penny also serves as an affiliate faculty
member at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the
University of Minnesota.
Penny's background complements many of
SMIF's key interests, including workforce development, early
childhood development and economic development, with a focus on
bio-ag and biomedical. Penny sees these areas as having the
biggest growth potential for the region and the greatest impact
on the future economy of southern Minnesota.
Penny represented Minnesota's First
Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from
1983 to 1995. Previously, he was a member of the Minnesota
Senate from 1977 to 1983. He is cofounder of the Economic Club
He has co-authored three books: Common
Cents: A Retiring Six-Term Congressman Reveals How Congress
Really Works - And What We Must Do to Fix It (1995),
The 15 Biggest Lies in Politics
(1998) and Payment Due (1996). Born and raised in
southeastern Minnesota, Penny received his B.A. in political
science from Winona State University.
This interview is Penny's sixth with
the Civic Caucus. Read a summary of Penny's last interview (Oct.
23, 2015) with the Civic Caucus,
2015, the Civic Caucus has been undertaking a review of
the quality of Minnesota's past,
present and future public-policy process for anticipating,
defining and resolving major community problems. On Nov. 27,
2016, the Caucus issued its report based on that review,
Thinking Ahead: Strengthening Minnesota's Public-Policy Process.The
Civic Caucus interviewed philanthropic consultant Judy Healey
and Tim Penny of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation to
hear their reactions to the report and their ideas on how to
implement its recommendations.
About the Minnesota Initiative
Foundations. The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF),
serving 20 counties in south-central and southeastern Minnesota,
is one of six regional foundations working to strengthen the
communities and economies in the 80 counties of Greater
Minnesota. Established by The McKnight Foundation in 1986, each
foundation is independent and serves its geographic region with
grants, business loans, programs and priorities, and donor
services, as well as collaborates on several statewide
initiatives. For more information, go to
Civic Caucus report
was excellent and interesting.
Philanthropic consultant Judy Healey
offered that review of the report, which lays out
recommendations for strengthening Minnesota's public-policy
process for probing problems, redefining issues and developing
action-ready proposals for solving community problems. But she
said when it comes to the report's recommendations, she's "a
little bit on another track." That's based on her experience in
policy development and her knowledge of foundations--how to get
them mobilized, their various attributes and the differences
She quoted from the report: "We urge
the philanthropic community to make a commitment to support
targeted public-policy studies that will probe deeply for
underlying causes, that will be open to redefining issues, and
that will offer action-specific proposed solutions." (p. 3)
To act on this, the report recommends
that the philanthropic community take on or facilitate a variety
of tasks, including:
Keeping a list of narrowly defined descriptions of the 25
to 50 most critical public-policy issues that need to be
addressed in the state.
Identifying a small group of issues of highest priority,
including those that are about to emerge, but aren't
necessarily already widely discussed in popular media.
Encouraging individual foundations or individual donors to
invite applications for study of those issues and development
of specific recommendations for innovative ways to address
Requiring recipients to follow well-established principles
of the Minnesota Process outlined in the report in learning
about issues, shaping and analyzing them, and developing
creative, action-ready proposals.
Measuring and reporting the following results: (a) how
well the completed studies followed those principles and (b)
the ultimate outcomes from reports, in terms of implementation
"That's quite an agenda for the
foundations," Healey said. "It's a good agenda, but I'm not sure
if they can address it all."
Healey said she thinks the Civic
Caucus is headed in the right direction with its report. "The
philanthropic community in this state is a place where you can
turn," she said, "but the emphasis should be on facilitating,
not doing. You don't want the foundations to control the agenda.
It's really important to keep control of the process as you work
towards implementing some of the goals and the details of this
"I don't think it'll be very effective
to hand this agenda to the foundations," Healey continued, "even
if they were willing to take it on, which I have some question
about. Ask them how they can facilitate what you want done. And
it would be more successful if you should ask them for help
rather than just telling them it's their obligation to do this."
She said there are two bottom-line
questions: (1) Who decides what should happen? (2) What
outcomes do you want? An active citizens
group willing to raise serious, complex public-policy issues
should keep control of the agenda, rather than just say the
foundations should do it.
There are different kinds of
foundations. Healey noted several different kinds of
Private, grant-making foundations.
These are 501(c)(3)
organizations that don't get money from the general public.
"They can pretty much do what their boards decide they want to
do," she said. The larger private foundations are staff-led.
The smaller private foundations operate differently. "The
private foundations might get interested in your work," she
said, "but it depends."
They often have a community
perspective, Healey said. "They might be very receptive if you
can cast what you're trying to do as being for the welfare of
the community, the common good." She mentioned 3M and General
Mills as examples of corporate foundations with a community
These foundations, Healey said,
would certainly be a possibility, because your project
promotes the public good. "But community foundations have a
lot of fish to fry and they're pretty political--not in the
partisan sense, but in the sense of how they function within
their communities." She said this is especially true of the
Minneapolis Foundation and The Saint Paul Foundation. Each of
those foundations now has assets of about $1 billion. "These
are huge charitable juggernauts that can be tapped," she said.
The largest of these in this
community--other than the hospital foundations--is the Amherst
H. Wilder Foundation, located in Saint Paul. An operating
foundation spends most of its income not on grants, but on its
own programs. "If you wanted to partner with Wilder to get
some of this done, that might be one option for moving this
forward," Healey said.
The Minnesota Initiative Foundations.
started by The McKnight Foundation in 1986. They're a hybrid,
The report was broad in terms of what
the Civic Caucus sees that needs to be undertaken. Healey
made that comment and said whether the Caucus goes with an
operating foundation or a community foundation or develops a
proposal for funding something that it does itself, it should
think about two things:
Cutting the issue.
Healey advised the Civic Caucus to choose something important in
which it wants to make a difference in terms of its report, in
terms of public policy, in terms of changing something.
Foundations usually respond better if you do the detailed
thinking for them.
Co-convening a meeting
with a group like the Minnesota Council on Foundations to get
various foundations to come and hear who you are, why you've
chosen this issue and what you want to accomplish. "Instead of
just writing a proposal," Healey said, "think about a
partnership from the start with the community foundations and
the Council on Foundations to sell them on the idea. Then invite
various foundations, perhaps the Council's membership, to come
and hear what you're doing and see who shows up."
"I would suggest you proceed by
finding one issue that needs work, convening to make the pitch,
following up with proposals and then pursuing a partnership with
someplace like the Wilder Foundation," she said.
If you submit a proposal on public
policy, it would be labeled research and it would be declined.
Healey made that comment and warned, "Don't fall into a research
trap. You're a group of citizens developing alternatives on
issues of public importance." You don't want to use the terms
"public policy" or "research." "What you want to do is to create
an energy into making some change for the public good," she
said. "Come with some language that doesn't shelve your proposal
from the outset."
The reasons foundations don't fund
research is that the universities pretty much have a lock on it
and the foundation staff is often not competent to assess it in
certain areas, she noted. Sometimes the foundations have a
flat-out prohibition against research.
Healey summarized her remarks:
Create a forum for your report.
Be prepared to take on some work yourself and get it
funded in some way.
Start with a pilot project or a single issue that's really
important for you.
Be careful about researching the proposal guidelines of
the foundations. It's not hard to write a grant. The
presentation is also important.
Alternatives for partnerships include the Council on
Foundations or possibly the Wilder Foundation or you go it
alone with some private or corporate foundation help.
Always the work must be for the good of the community.
Tim Penny's opening remarks
We really tread lightly when it comes
to public policy. Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF)
President and CEO Tim Penny made that remark in describing the
"I've been a bit nervous in recent
years with the degree to which some of the major foundations now
assert that one of their missions is to effect and change public
policy," Penny said. "At SMIF, public policy grows out of our
SMIF does 25 to 30 small-business startup or expansion
loans every year.
It does a limited amount of equity investments each year.
It facilitates community dialogues around
We don't have a good understanding of
the new immigrant populations coming to our region. Penny
said that applies to both SMIF and its lending partners, like
small-town banks and economic development authorities (EDAs).
"We needed to better understand that population," he said. "We
secured a grant to build out our prosperity initiative."
SMIF has since held events with
speakers and dialogue to draw in immigrant entrepreneurs within
our region. From that event, he said, the organization asks for
applicants for a kind of "Small Business 101" training course,
that's offered over several weeks, followed by several months of
hand-in-hand mentoring. "We know an effective way to do that
outreach and to bring resources to immigrants starting
businesses," Penny remarked.
SMIF makes a large investment in time
and money to early childhood learning.
Penny said SMIF invests $1.5 million
in early childhood each year within its region. "That's 30 to 40
percent of our budget and a good chunk of our staff time," he
said. That includes placing 20 AmeriCorps members as teacher
aides at early childhood sites, doing a lot of grant-making and
distributing about 50,000 books to early-learner reading
programs annually. And each year SMIF goes into one or two
communities to help with strategic planning about early
childhood goals for their communities. He noted that there are
more than 3,000 early-childhood providers in SMIF's region, most
of them in-home.
"All of this gives us some expertise
on that issue," Penny said. "When the Legislature is dealing
with issues like pre-K for age four in the public schools or
scholarships for low-income kids, we know a little bit about
that. We then join a coalition like
that is broad-based and advocates for the approach to early
childhood that we've learned through our work makes sense."
Penny said SMIF sees quality as an
important part of early childhood education. The organization
created an early-childhood provider-training program that helps
providers with business training. "Hand-in-glove with that is
Parent Aware academic training that helps them better understand
the things kids need to know before kindergarten," he said.
SMIF can be an advocate, based on its
experience, but not a lobbying organization.
"All nonprofits have to be careful
about crossing the line into being a lobbying organization," he
said. "You get in big trouble if you do that." He said SMIF
tracks the amount of money it spends on what might be considered
lobbying and it's a fraction of one percent. "Our work with
MinneMinds is about as close as we get to advocacy," he stated,
"and that's a coalition."
Penny made two suggestions to the
While he agreed that the multiple
issues mentioned in the Civic Caucus report are all important,
he said no one organization or no one coalition of
organizations is going to take on all those issues. He noted
that a broad coalition of groups coming to the same conclusion
about how to approach an issue can be effective. It must be a
targeted and broad-based coalition that is advocating for
something where we've demonstrated we have expertise.
Buy-in and diversity are more effective.
often I see groups and organizations coming at an issue and
purporting to be a coalition that speaks for a broad, diverse
base of interests," Penny said. "But in many cases, that
diversity is like 10 shades of the same point of view.
Sometimes coalitions are all from the left or the right."
As an example of how diversity can
work, Penny cited the Committee for a Responsible Budget, of
which he is one of three co-chairs. The committee's bylaws
require that the board of directors be made up of one-third
Democrats, one-third Republicans and one-third independents. He
said the committee does not carry an agenda for any political
party. "We say there are some basic fiscal principles that we
ought to be able to agree on, whatever your goals for government
are. Members of the board of directors cut across the political
spectrum in terms of their personal priorities, but they all
agree on the basic principles. Those organizations that reflect
that type of buy-in and diversity are more effective than
organizations that purport to be a diverse coalition, but are
really just a variety of groups all coming at the issue from the
left or from the right."
We need more of what the Civic Caucus
does. Penny praised the Civic Caucus. But he said to really
have an effect on public policy, in a way that politicians will
listen, you can't form a group that takes on too many issues. He
sees the Civic Caucus's policy-process report as challenging the
foundation community to take ownership of improving the policy
process. "I think you're expecting too much of the foundations
and expecting too much in terms of the number of issues they
should address," he said.
"Don't give this control to the
foundations," Healey commented. If another organization able to
do this type of work does not exist in the community, you'll
have to reinvent one and make it work, she said.
Questions and Discussion
When a community has an issue dealing
with economic development or early childhood, SMIF's process is
to facilitate the conversation. Penny made that remark in
response to an interviewer's question about solving community
problems from the bottom up. "We need to make sure there's a
leadership group within the community willing to put the time
in," Penny said. "You have to have some key people that help
organize the meetings. They also have to be willing to reach
beyond the typical cast of characters."
"We use the model of asset-based
community development," he continued. "We insist that, if we're
going to come in and facilitate, voices from all sectors of the
community must be invited into the mix. It's a way of taking it
beyond a small portion of the community getting together to
demand what they want. It's a process of inviting the entire
community to listen and learn from one another. All we want them
to do is to focus on a common goal. We don't dictate the
outcome; we just dictate the process."
Philanthropy is an outcome of
capitalism. An interviewer commented that if you want to
change an outcome, you must change the system. But first, you
must understand the system. He said that for the most part, the
foundation community doesn't understand that. "Why don't they
want to know?" he asked. "They assume they know how to get the
outcomes they want."
"Part of it has to do with the
structure of private philanthropy in the U.S.," Healey
responded. "Philanthropy is an outcome of capitalism. Because of
that, it's not subject to public control and possibly even
public knowledge and public process."
"Hubris is another problem," she
continued. "The charge of hubris is somewhat applicable to lots
of staff. They're not necessarily working for the public good.
Speaking broadly, it's often not a field that sees itself in
service to the community. Instead, it sees itself as a leader.
That's a dangerous dichotomy."
Penny agreed that many foundations,
such as the Kresge, McKnight and Ford foundations, were created
out of the wealth of the free enterprise system. "But with a few
exceptions, they are decidedly on the left of the political
spectrum in terms of the work they choose to do," he said. "That
is also part of the problem. They come up with solutions based
only on that ideology."
In contrast, he pointed to MinneMinds,
which includes liberal foundations, but also the business
community and nonprofits rooted in the work of early childhood
programming. "That was a more inclusive way of coming to a
conclusion about an early childhood agenda," Penny said. "But
from my experience in the nonprofit foundation world, that is
the exception, not the rule."
Healey added that there is tension,
especially in the larger foundations, between foundation staff,
who tend to be more liberal, and foundation boards, who tend to
be, or at least were in the past, more conservative. There is
also that tension in the private and corporate foundations, she
Foundations like to see outcomes. Healey
said there was "outcome fever" in the early 1990s. Outcomes had
to be associated with what was happening, not just ivory-tower
She then cited the example of
Sabathani Community Center in south Minneapolis, which helped
foundations understand that going to college was not necessarily
a desired outcome for many young black males in the community.
For many of them, she said, a good outcome was to have shelter
and to stay in school.
"Don't do outcomes from the academy,"
Healey said. "Go to the people involved. It's an old community
organizing idea, but it still works."
What is one small step we can take to
build up the ability of Minnesotans to come up with better
structural ideas to solve critical problems? An interviewer
asked that question, commenting that public policy needs better
ideas. Penny responded that one idea might be the
Jefferson Center's Citizen
Jury model, which brings diverse people together to learn and
have conversations around an issue and then come up with a
Penny also suggested the idea of
building some sort of coalition around another issue, similar to
the MinneMinds coalition on early childhood. Pick the issue
that's most urgent. Then an organization like the Civic Caucus
or the Citizens League could be lead facilitator or convener of
other groups from across the spectrum that care about that
issue. "A coalition speaking with one voice could have a
positive impact," he said.
Lobbying or advocating on an issue
based on the actual work a group or coalition is doing is an
extension of that work, he said. "It's important to work in
collaboration with others who may not agree politically, but
agree on the matter of principle or of policy that this is the
best way to advance the cause."
Healey proposed creating a rural/urban
conversation. "The most important thing is to bring people
together to have some understanding of how the rural/urban
divide is harming the state and society," she said. She
recommended the Jefferson Center as a good partner for this
Finding a way to bridge the
rural/urban divide around an issue, in partnership with an
organization like the Jefferson Center, could attract some
funding. "Start there and get some press on it," she said.
Is it important to have measurable
outcomes? Penny responded that SMIF uses measurable outcomes
in its work. "We have metrics of what we're trying to achieve
with all programmatic activity," he said, "and we measure
Healey had a different view on the use
of measurable outcomes. "The problem is with the term 'metrics.'
We think we can pin down everything into numbers. But
philanthropy is a human endeavor. What if the outcome is changed
lives versus five therapeutic sessions for families? That's
going to be anecdotal or subjective, but it isn't a measurable
outcome. On the other hand, a family could attend five sessions,
but they might not work."
"We have to start thinking creatively
about what outcomes mean," she continued. It's much nicer if we
can add up all the numbers. But are you funding activities or
looking at what actually happens? We must unhook ourselves from
numbers being the only valid way to assess results."
Could the Civic Caucus be a trusted
convener? Convening is an important role, Penny said, and he
cited an example from SMIF's work. The foundation convened
community leaders from across southern Minnesota about the
Southern Minnesota Competitive Project. "No one else could have
done it, because our work in the community doesn't step on
anybody's toes," he said.
"Our model is we work
collaboratively," he continued. He said SMIF can call groups
together to make things happen. "The sum can be greater than the
parts," he said. "How can we come together to create something
that doesn't step on anyone's toes or take anything away from
He recommended that the Civic Caucus
pick an issue from the list in its policy-process report and see
if it can be a trusted convener on that issue. That starts by
getting several diverse organizations to sit around the table
and find where the common ground is, he said. People need to
understand there isn't just one way to address an issue. Maybe
there could be consensus about another way to solve the problem.
"You're not right just because you think you're right," he said.
"If you act as a convener, you can
influence the governor and the Legislature," Penny continued.
"It will end up on the editorial page, which will strengthen
Healey said the community-organizing
process is not just about bringing the right mix of people
together and coming to the right answers. "In the past,
community organizers were facilitators of our understanding and
of our coming to conclusions about things that needed to change.
It was a Citizens League process on steroids. Somebody has to be
there to facilitate the conversation among diverse points of
view and to help the group see things it didn't see before and
come to a conclusion. Then take that conclusion and test it."
"There's a role for facilitating and
there's also a role for imagination and creativity," she
continued. "Most scientific discoveries have come from
imagination and creativity."
Should the Civic Caucus apply for a
planning grant? Healey said yes to this interviewer
question, but said it should be a planning grant for a
pilot project. "A pilot project will start small and
will force you to focus on the core purpose and possible
activities to achieve your outcomes," she said. Penny added that
the pilot project should focus on one specific issue.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay (executive director), Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje, Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,