Case Study: Minnesota Council on Foundations

Lifting Up Learning

Conducting program assessments with people at the center.

Services: Research

Conducting program assessments with people at the center

Moments of crisis call communities to action. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdowns led to vast economic and social devastation across the state of Minnesota. It was time for philanthropy to make a swift, bold, and impactful response.

In April 2020, the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF) launched the Integrated Capital Recovery Program (ICRP) to encourage foundations to provide loans, Program Related Investments (PRIs), and grants to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs).

ICRP explicitly prioritized support for small businesses and nonprofits led by women; Black, indigenous and people of color; those who identify as LGBTQ+; people with disabilities; and people living in rural communities.

Philanthropy is often criticized for moving too slowly to address the urgent needs of marginalized communities, and MCF partnered with Seiche to do a thorough evaluation and assessment of the ICRP program to ensure that any success from this rapid deployment were integrated into future efforts. MCF also wanted to ensure that any challenges faced by recipients and participants were acknowledged and addressed moving forward.

What We Did

Two of MCF’s core principles are continuous learning and ethical leadership. Knowing this, Seiche designed a research approach grounded in deep listening, prioritizing individual and small group interviews that could go deep and provide the insight MCF was seeking.

Balancing Power, Seeking Equity

Accountability to communities is a through-line in our work.

  • Our multidisciplinary research approach made clear MCF’s dedication to equity and justice by making explicit – and seeking to balance – the power dynamics that arise between funders and funding recipients.
  • By taking the time needed to engage with participants, we surfaced both quantitative and qualitative findings while staying laser focused on protecting the identities and affiliations of participants, and ensuring participation and reporting was representative.

Actionable Insights

By centering the experiences of people, we balanced the complexity and nuance of funding mechanisms with the real stories of impact in communities.

  • The resulting key findings and recommendations were clear, actionable, and equity-focused, providing MCF clear pathways for improvement and a better understanding of their role in Minnesota’s funding landscape.

A Long-Term Relationship

Our assessment of the ICRP program was a continuation of our earlier work with MCF to evaluate their Minnesota Disaster Recovery Fund efforts.

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