William and Maude McKnight established the McKnight Foundation in 1953, after William had helped build the 3M Company. As the foundation has grown into one of the largest in the country, with more than $2 billion in assets, it has remained focused on its own state of Minnesota. And in the mid-1980s the McKnight Foundation became even more rooted when under the leadership of the founders’ daughter Virginia McKnight Binger it decided to take a strongly community-based approach to philanthropy.
As the state economy underwent major changes, the McKnight team believed decisions needed to be better informed by residents closest to local needs. The foundation particularly wanted to improve the quality and quantity of rural philanthropy beyond the state’s dominant Minneapolis-St. Paul core. So in 1986, the McKnight Foundation launched six independent regional foundations ranged across the 80 counties of its state.
Each foundation focuses on improvement and growth of its particular region, and its priorities in areas like economic development, education, community building, and families, youth, and seniors are set by leaders living in those regions. To date, the McKnight Foundation has invested $237 million in these foundations to help them carry out their local priorities. These so-called Minnesota Initiative Foundations function as regional spark plugs—a blend of economic development corporation and community foundation, and are nationally recognized for the strength and impact of their work.
- Minnesota Initiative Foundations, mcknight.org/grant-programs/mn