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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Ann Mulholland, Vice President of Community Impact for Minnesota Philanthropy Partners
May 6, 2016

The Community Knows Best: foundations should invest
in building the community’s capacity to solve problems


The community is in the best position to both identify and solve big challenges, according to Ann Mulholland of The Saint Paul Foundation. When the community has chosen to raise up certain issues, it is community philanthropy's obligation to hear those concerns, to provide resources to address them and also to provide leadership, if leadership is desired. She asserts that community foundations' role is not to solve problems, but to invest in building capacity in the community to solve problems. She says The Saint Paul Foundation believes if it invests wisely and takes risks with big ideas in the community, it will be successful in building a strong civic ecosystem.

Mulholland states that there is most certainly a role for foundations in public policy, adding that her foundation views public policy as a lot broader than what happens in the Legislature. There are many other forms of public policy that foundations can, should and do engage in, including lifting up issues that are important to the community. She stresses that The Saint Paul Foundation has a very active role in the full spectrum of public policy and in helping other organizations build their own public-policy capacity.

Civic organizations that brought up public issues in the past, Mulholland maintains, are being replaced by on-the-ground organizations raising issues and solutions in a different way than we're used to. These new voices of change will be the key identifiers and solvers of civic issues since they are closest to the problems and challenges, living them day to day. She says her foundation is here to serve those with the least voice and those who are most vulnerable, since lifting up that segment of the community lifts up the whole community.

Foundations, Mulholland states, are assessing the composition of their own staffs and boards to increase representation there of the people they are serving. She believes foundations have an important role in funding pilot programs and then pushing for those that work to be replicated system-wide.

For the complete interview summary see: Mulholland interview

Individual Responses:

Wayne Jennings
Wise and thoughtful positions by the foundations, particularly when it comes to involving affected communities and the willingness to take risks.

Tom Abeles
Ann is on target when she suggests that the CC expand its community

The op-ed piece by Bob McGregor in the Star Tribune shows what happens when the world has moved on and all the ululations will not restore the perceived glory of the past. See:
"It's Time for Business Leaders to Stand Up for the Community" .

Judith Healey
This presentation was very helpful in describing how the St. Paul Foundation worked with the community. It would have been even more helpful if Ms. Mulholland had made a few comments about how the Minnesota Community Foundation worked to identify rural interests. As the first president of the then-titled Minnesota Foundation, I worked at that effort. We sent representatives into several rural communities (1986-90) to identify what residents thought were their main issues. These efforts were funded by the Mardag Foundation. Thus the "Minnesota Community Partners" was working across boundaries to identify issues. I hope the Minnesota Community Foundation is currently able to do in rural communities what the St Paul Foundation does effectively in the east metro area.

Karen Seashore
The best example [of] this wisdom is the Chalkboard Project in Oregon. It is a very impressive and sustained effort on the part of Oregon foundations.

Dale Schmid
I liked this interview because Mulholland not only described her organization's policies, but [also] nicely illustrated how they work.

I've expressed a concern about some other interviewees because their policies were "out-of-reach" for decision makers. The policies seemed fine, but didn't meet the Caucus' goal of concrete, actionable policies.


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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.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (Chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman




The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
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Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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