Creating conditions for nonprofit success

“Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.” – Oscar Wilde

Rural nonprofits, like any organization, succeed when the conditions are right. So what does it take? Heavy pockets and an army of do-gooders? Not quite.

Based on learning from 13 interviews with Blandin Foundation Rural Quick Start grantees (grants up to $5,000 available to communities that have gone through Blandin Community Leadership training), here are some key conditions that led to their successes:

Communicate Clearly: Framing, framing, framing

Excellent communication is of enormous value in developing necessary partnerships, navigating obstacles, proper framing of the issues at hand, and successfully completing any project. In the words of one grantee: “Good communication is a must. Anything that succeeds and anything that fails is because of communication.”

Build Social Capital: Relationships matter

Building strong, inclusive relationships is key to project success. Many grantees spoke of the need to be inclusive in bringing a wide spectrum of voices to the table. Several stated that using an inclusive process was part of what contributed to the success of the projects. Others saw the ability to continue to engage new leaders into their projects was important to sustaining their efforts. From a grantee, “Utilizing your social capital is huge. I do it all the time now! I picked an all-star team to make this happen.”

Leverage Resources: The Ripple Effect

Small grants can have significant impact. When looking for additional resources, demonstrating the capacity to succeed is key. By effectively communicating the value of existing partnerships and resources, others funders will recognize a well thought out  strategy and be more inclined to act.

What other conditions would you add as keys to success? Post below!

Ten Blandin Broadband Communities Named at Yesterday’s Border to Border Broadband Conference

Leaders from the 10 rural Minnesota communities gather to accept the invitation to become a Blandin Broadband Community

Yesterday more than 160 economic developers, educators, providers, legislators, co-ops, and community leaders came together to tackle the tough issues related to Internet access and use. The day kicked off with an uplifting introduction by Blandin Foundation Director of Public Policy and Development Bernadine Joselyn.

“Look around the room. Do you get a sense of the power of what we can do together that we can’t do alone? That is what today is all about, to get better at working together to harness the power of broadband for a more prosperous Minnesota with opportunity for all,” said Joselyn.

Here’s a quick rundown of the day:

The big news for Blandin Foundation came during the noon hour when 10 new Blandin Broadband communities were named. These communities will enter into two-year partnerships with the Foundation that will provide planning, technical and financial support to help meet each community’s digital technology goals. The new communities are:

  • Carlton County
  • Central Woodlands (east central Minnesota)
  • Resilient Region 5 (north central Minnesota)
  • Sherburne County
  • Chisago County
  • Redwood County
  • Renville/Sibley Counties
  • Red Wing
  • Nobles County
  • Martin County

“At Blandin Foundation we recognize that broadband access – and the skills to use it – are essential to expanding opportunity for all. Communities have told us this for over 12 years and it is the foremost reason why we’ve renewed our commitment to broadband,” said Joselyn. “Thanks to community leaders across the state, Minnesota is making important strides toward ensuring that rural places and the economically and socially disadvantaged are not left behind. That momentum can’t stop.”

Click here to see the full press release and here for reactions from 10 leaders in each new Blandin Broadband community.


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Tele-dentistry fights the “silent epidemic” in rural Minnesota

Did you know that 51 million hours of school time is lost each year due to dental illness? That’s a staggering number!

“A lot of people don’t realize dental disease is the most common disease in kids and it’s completely preventable,” says Sarah Wovcha, executive director of Children’s Dental Services (CDS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the oral health of children from families with low incomes. “There needs to be a wake-up call about the negative impact this is having on our children.”

CDS provides a full range of dental services to children and pregnant women across Minnesota, but rural communities pose unique problems, Wovhca says.

“In Minnesota, we see various pockets of very vulnerable people, but we’ve really seen a crisis in access to care in our rural communities.”

Why? Travel distance and lack of available dentists, says Wovcha.

This is most evident in northeastern Minnesota, where some communities have fewer than three dentists.

This predicament has led to what U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher called a “silent epidemic.”

“With so few dentists, people on public assistance just don’t get served,” she says.

Enter the connective power of technology.

With a $50,000 Blandin Community Broadband Program grant, CDS implemented the use of tele-dentistry to view and send digital images electronically to dentists in remote locations in order to expand access to restorative care to the Nashwauk, Keewatin and Northome school districts.

Technology has enabled CDS to fight this “silent epidemic” in rural Minnesota, says Wovcha.

Through the grant, CDS was able to provide dental care to 512 low-income, underserved children and pregnant women in northeastern Minnesota.

“We’re literally saving their teeth, reducing their risk of cancer and death by oral disease and, ultimately, putting them on a path to lead longer, healthier lives,” said Wovcha.

While kids might say that going to school is like getting teeth pulled, given the choice, I know what I would choose. How about you?



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Minnesota shares a holiday gift with the nation

Photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Herald Review

As intricate, iridescent snowflakes start to fall, the smell of pine needles, the sight of twinkling lights, the taste of peppermint treats, and feeling the holiday cheer is palpable. The warmth of family, friends and community envelopes us like a weighty, woven blanket.

The magic of the holidays was in full-swing last week when students from the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig and Northland Schools performed a drum and dance ceremony while standing among the towering trees of the Chippewa National Forest. One of those trees, an 88-foot white spruce, was cut down by Minnesota Logger of the Year Jim Scheff to be transported to Washington D.C. and featured as this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree.
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Seniors-to-Seniors: Tech night boosts broadband literacy in Lake County

A recent Lake County News Chronicle story featured a Blandin Community Broadband Program that partnered seniors (older folks) with seniors (from Two Harbors high school) to “help get them online, offering training and support.”

Chris Langenbrunner, Community Education Director, said, “We had heartwarming interactions and personalized learning occurring in our media center all night. It was so cool to see the different generations engaged, talking, laughing, asking questions and enjoying each other.”

Due to the success of last year’s class, they are holding another Student-to-Senior Multi-Age Tech class tomorrow. Take a look at highlights from last year’s class in the story and video below!
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Starting Strong: student success stories from MinnCAN

Last month MinnCAN spotlighted four rural Minnesota schools in their recent report, Starting Strong: Pre-K through 3rd grade success stories from across Minnesota.

Vision, collaboration and leadership were three key elements in each featured school. With alignment as the goal, read how each school rallied their resources to make lasting positive change.
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A Down-and-Dirty Rural Definition

By Tim Marema

Here are the words you don’t want to hear at the beginning of rural policy meetings:

“Before we get into our topic, let’s take a quick look at how we are going to define rural.”

There’s never anything quick about it. Hours later, after the last statistician, artist, organizer, or demographer has collapsed in fatigue, you might be ready to move on to your real topic.

Yet, for all the difficulties of definition, we know rural America exists, because we’ve experienced it.

Many of us live there (about a quarter of Minnesotans and a fifth of the nation, but that depends on how you define it). And almost all of us care about the health and future of our rural communities, whether we live in a big city or the countryside.

The first thing to acknowledge is that defining rural depends on the policy context. Are you dealing with waste water, communications, transportation, education, culture, regional planning? Each policy area might require a slightly different approach to the definition.

Are you engaged in a five-year scholarly study or a 30-minute down-and-dirty analysis for a member of the press who needs the answer yesterday?

Are you looking within just one state, a region, nationally?

Are you expected anywhere for supper?
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Manufacturing and today’s rural MN economy

In Minnesota, 826,000 jobs, $18.3 billion in wages and 16 percent of our GDP comes from manufacturing. Last week rural communities across Minnesota celebrated Manufacturers Week, “a statewide celebration that puts the spotlight on a crucial sector of the state’s economy.”

From Red Wing to Sauk Centre, Bemidji to Pequot Lakes, Warroad to Aitkin, Minnesotans toured rural manufacturing businesses to see firsthand how our homegrown products are made and to gain an appreciation of how that contributes to the vibrancy of our communities.
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New report answers why unemployment rates are lower in rural Midwest, post recession

First, a staggering statistic: “Eighty-two percent of U.S. counties experienced job losses as a result of the recession.” WOW! But, there’s more…

“Some places were hit much harder than others, and some have recovered more rapidly,” says a recent USDA report.

Surprisingly, the Plains states in the Midwest seem to have made it out relatively unscathed with the lowest unemployment rates in the country. USDA researchers asked “Why?” in their new report. Here’s what they found (adapted from this Daily Yonder article):
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Reflecting on the future of equitable education in Minnesota

Kyle Erickson, grants program officer

Energized and hopeful, Blandin Foundation staffers Kyle Erickson and Becky LaPlant returned from “Learning and Teaching with Fire: Lessons from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges (TCU)” bubbling with new ideas for the future of equitable education in Minnesota.

Kyle reflected on his experience in a guest blog for the Minnesota Council on Foundation’s Philanthropy Potluck blog. Here are a few snippets…
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