Growing philanthropy in southern Minn.

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Column: Guest Column, by Tim Penny

Local philanthropy is nothing new. In fact, it has always been a key factor in building a quality of life in our communities. That is because people like to donate to the places and causes that they feel strongly about.

Tim Penny

Tim Penny

Here at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, we are passionate about local philanthropy. We are proud that 100 percent of SMIF’s board and staff are also donors to our Foundation, demonstrating their support for our mission.

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One of SMIF’s donors refers to the foundation as a “community grower.” Clearly, our mission does help build communities through our investment in entrepreneurship and early childhood education. And so, growing SMIF’s financial resources is important, in that it allows us to continue our important programing locally.

Currently, SMIF invests $5 million into our region on an annual basis. Without the support of our donors, which includes city and county governments, banks and businesses, as well as individuals, we would not be able to do as much to support local communities. We have been good stewards of the dollars our donors have entrusted us with, keeping our overhead costs low.

And this year our endowment fund reached $30 million! This will ensure that we can continue the work we do throughout our 20-county southern Minnesota region for many years to come.

Through our endowment fund and the continued support of local donors, we were able to provide more than 3,200 grants and invest in 470 new businesses over these past 27 years. SMIF is now in the process of building two new endowed funds to perpetuate the work we do in both the early childhood arena and entrepreneurship. We are excited that the McKnight Foundation is matching every donation $1 for $1 to both the Youth Trust Fund and the Entrepreneur Fund.

Thanks to hundreds of donors, the Youth Trust Fund, which was started in 2008, now generates about $60,000 annually for area early childhood home visitation grants. To date, we’ve invested $324,000 in these grants and trainings to more than 35 home visiting programs within our 20-county region. Additional donations to the Youth Trust Fund will allow us to expand these early childhood investments in the future.

Growing an endowment for entrepreneurial activity is also vitally important. With the dollars generated through the Entrepreneur Fund, SMIF will support entrepreneurship through grants for collaborative projects, “seed fund” awards to assist in early-stage business development, and funding for other specific events or programs. With a perpetual fund, SMIF will be able to maintain its commitment to creating strong local businesses that provide quality jobs and contribute to regional growth.

We know SMIF is only one of many organizations working to improve the economic prosperity and community vitality of our region. There are many other excellent options for your philanthropic dollars. Whether by supporting SMIF or other worthy organizations, it is our hope that you choose to get involved locally and support those groups that positively impact your community now and into the future.

If you would like learn more about how your dollars support SMIF’s work locally, please feel free to contact me at, or visit our website at and click on Donate.


Tim Penny is the president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.