Learning from the Last Five Years. Preparing for the Next Five.

By July 14, 2015Foundation Blog

By Patrick Troska and Joel Luedtke

Nearly five years ago, The Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota established its current set of funding priorities. These priorities were based on a philosophy that Jay and Rose held throughout their lives – to help people in poverty become economically stable, you must provide a hand up not a hand out. With this core idea as our guide star, the staff set out on a journey of discovery to better understand which strategies and activities might help us, as a relatively small foundation, achieve meaningful impact in our community. We met with thought leaders and content experts, conducted focus groups and small convenings, and dug through mounds of research. We settled on four broad funding priority areas: education, employment, housing and transit. In each of these, we established specific strategies to further focus our efforts.

We also made a few other substantive changes to our process:

  • We moved to a proactive grantmaking process where proposals are received by invitation only. We stopped accepting unsolicited requests for funding.
  • We focused our support on systems change, policy, advocacy and leadership development. We no longer fund direct services or capital support as a singular strategy. Rather, any direct service funding is about testing out good ideas for future scaling or replication.
  • We began providing more general operating support and multi-year support.
  • Finally, we moved to a higher level of staff engagement in addressing issues related to our funding priorities.

Now, five years in, we have arrived at a somewhat natural point of reflection. We are taking much of 2015 to examine each of our funding priorities and their accompanying strategies to see where changes – big, small or none at all – should be made for the next five years. We don’t anticipate deep revisions to our funding priorities, but rather small to somewhat bigger tweaks that update our specific grantmaking strategies.

Thank you to all of you who have participated in one-on-one conversations, convenings, and focus groups so far this year. We will wrap up our current round of focus group conversations in early August. Through these we are learning a lot about what’s working, what could be improved, and where the sands are shifting.

Although we will not roll out our updated funding priorities until later this year or early 2016, we will provide an update on what we’re hearing and learning in a blog post next month. Stay tuned!