Big grant year helped Mankato Area Foundation boost area nonprofits

·3 min read

Oct. 23—MANKATO — As local nonprofits fought to maintain programs amid a lingering pandemic, they found extra help at the Mankato Area Foundation.

The foundation distributed 601 grants adding up to a combined $2.025 million during its fiscal year 2020-2021. It was a record amount for the foundation, as well as more than double what it granted two years ago.

The foundation's big year was made possible by community generosity, said President and CEO Nancy Zallek, which led to much-needed help for area nonprofits.

"This community is just incredibly generous," she said. "The last couple years have been challenging. When those things happen and the nonprofit sector is stressed, our donors have a real history of stepping up."

At the same time, the extent of grant growth over the last few years came as a bit of a surprise to her. Given how hard the last couple years were on people, a doubling would've been a bold prediction.

A growing donor base helped. Through donor advised funds, or DAFs, foundation staff worked with more donors to find charitable giving opportunities around the community.

The philanthropic tool matches donors to charitable causes they care about. It also helps their dollars make the most impact, as staff can alert them to the latest needs within the nonprofit community.

A breakdown from the foundation shows a wide range of impact areas received grant funding. The three biggest program categories were "community benefit" at about 30%, "education & scholarships" at about 21%, and "youth" programs at around 14%.

Examples of community benefit grants included $20,000 to Partners for Housing, $12,000 to Connections Ministry and $10,500 to MRCI. Feeding Our Communities Partners and the Greater Mankato Area United Way also each received $10,000.

Funding for Feeding Our Communities Partners, or FOCP, helped the nonprofit offer a mobile meals program, known as STOMP, over the summer. STOMP stands for SummerTime Outreach Meal Program, and through it the nonprofit distributed 524 meals at three sites in Mankato.

FOCP piloted the program in summer 2020 using COVID-19 pandemic relief funding. Foundation dollars helped bring the program back this summer, said Lillie Herbst, marketing and communications manager at FOCP.

The three sites were at Sibley Park near Sibley Apartments, near Minnesota State University, at Eastport Apartments and South Bend outside Riverbend Estates.

"We targeted food desert locations, places where students or young people didn't have access to foods nearby," Herbst said.

The nonprofit still offered its Summer Pack food program, which involved delivering monthly food boxes to students in kindergarten through eighth grade over the summer. STOMP was in addition to Summer Pack, was offered during weekdays, and was available to youth younger than 18.

Writing and receiving grants isn't usually a fast process in the nonprofit world. So much competition for limited funds makes for lengthy deliberations for approval, then longer wait times for the money to be disbursed.

In FOCP's case, its leaders knew they wanted to bring back STOMP in 2021 but needed funding to do it. They met with the foundation, and within a short timeframe knew they could plan on the program happening again, Herbst said.

"We wouldn't have been able to do this program without those grants," she said. "We went to them saying this is something we'd really like to do, but we're tapped out. They stepped up to the plate."

One of the benefits of grants through the foundation is the quicker turnarounds when needs arise, Zallek said.

"If we can connect donors to the right organization, it's really a win/win," she said. "That's one of the reasons we like this model. We can just be more responsive."

Looking ahead, the foundation's strong donor base has Zallek feeling confident the upcoming years will bring similar levels of support to area nonprofits.

"Based on our growth and the model we're using, I fully anticipate we'll at least match or exceed those (totals)," she said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola

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