An Interfaith Funders Report

What brings Interfaith Funders to Minnesota?
While there was national attention on Minnesota during the past electoral season, it wasnt just the Republican National Convention
hubbub or the post-Senate race vote counting that caught our attention. The more we heard from grantees and colleagues, the clearer we
were that there was something big going on in the upper Midwest.

The rapid growth of people of color, especially immigrants, is creating
shifts in the demographic and political make-up of
Minnesota, a relatively prosperous state. Racial disparities
continue to underscore many challenges to Minnesotans but
have sparked considerable energy and creativity from the
organizing community as organizers forge new alliances
across more than racial boundaries. The work called to us
and we wanted to know more.

Interfaith Funders (IF) is a network of faith-based and
secular funders working to advance the field of
congregation-based community organizing with the aim of
strengthening democracy and justice. In 2007, after a
strategic planning process, we decided we could add value to
the field by focusing on some targeted regional initiatives.
We look for regions where at least two Interfaith Funders
members make a case that there is an appetite to do
something "bigger," something that will build ties between
organizing groups, networks, other community-based
partners, advocacy and research organizations, and funders.
As funders, we look at how our sector can participate in the
journey to move issues along and strengthen groups so that
they will have significant impact, and we commit to working
for a critical mass of support among funders.

Three IF members made the initial case about Minnesota
McKnight Foundation, the Domestic Hunger Program
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (
ELCA), and the
Unitarian Universalist (UU)
Veatch Program at Shelter
Rock. McKnight is locally based in Minneapolis and works
to promote connected and comprehensive responses to place-based
community issues in Minnesota. Program Officer Eric
Muschler says, We believe that there is some special work
going on in the Twin Cities worth looking at, reflecting on,
and sharing more broadly. The UU Veatch Program and
ELCA are national funders well invested in Minnesota,
bringing their national perspective and learning to the mix.

Focus MN: the Funder Briefing

Our conversations lead to an interesting query: How does the
intersection of faith, race, and immigration in Minnesota
redefine place-based development, regional equity, and civic
participation? To explore this more deeply, Interfaith
Funders and our partners organized an October, 2008 funder
briefing, in order to create a space for Minnesota funders and
organizations as well as other national funder affinity groups.
We felt that by applying a shared lens of equity, we could
find common principles across the barriers of our issue and
geographic funding silos. Co-sponsoring the event were
Minnesota Council on Foundations, Grantmakers
Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, Funders
Committee for Civic Participation, and the Funders
Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities.

Objectives for the Focus Minnesota funder briefing were:

Highlighting organizing collaborations that demonstrate
organizing work that crosses multiple boundaries of
issues, race, place, and faiths.
Calling attention to the active and intentional work
organizing groups are doing around integrating a racial
analysis into their organizing.
Exploring the relationship between immigrant
communities and historic communities of color, and
Creating clarity about the value of sustained or
increased investment in organizing and the ways that
well integrated faith-based organizing adds power and
potential to the field.

Our day and a half of meetings, speakers and site visits only
allowed time to illustrate and illuminate examples of the
organizing in Minnesota not speak with or meet every
worthwhile organization. What the forty funders who met
together with key organizers did accomplish was to explore
some interesting developments in organizing and organizer
collaboration, including several models of faith-community
involvement that appear to us to be nationally significant.

Greater Minnesota: Forging Statewide
Reach with New Communities

While our time at the briefing was short, the depth of the
work out in Greater Minnesota, or beyond the Twin Cities
metro area, was clear.

We learned: Organizing is expanding in reach
and density beyond the core Twin Cities into
suburban communities and across the state
through a powerful movement to secure and
exercise the basic rights of citizenship.

We were treated to a Minnesota 101 on statewide
demographic and political trends by the
Organizer Apprenticeship Project, which has trained and developed
organizers and brought together justice organizations
strategically for more than fifteen years. OAP's scope of
experience with groups from the Iron Range to the Iowa
border positions them to comprehensively map the reach of
community organizing in the state.

The first map was creatively drawn out on a shower curtain
but now is available via digital mapping. Through the growth
and statewide expansion of community organizations,
primarily among immigrants, the power centers for
progressive change have shifted beyond the conventional
urban areas, creating new opportunities and arenas for
broader change at the state level.

We learned: Community-based work in
Minnesota is layered and interconnected across
diverse communities, simultaneously fostering
new civic participation, integrated voter
engagement, and immigrant integration.

"Community involvement for newcomers doesnt just
happen," states Molly Schultz Hafid, Program Officer with
the UU Veatch Program at Shelter Rock. "Sustainable
immigrant integration requires skilled and well-resourced
organizations to engage new residents in community agenda
setting, developing leadership skills and embracing the best
in democratic practices and values. Civic engagement efforts,
particularly integrated voter engagement, build the impact
and effectiveness of immigrant community organizations."

A growing number of immigrant community groups are
incorporating civic participation into their strategy to
increase their membership base and begin to exercise
political power within the state of Minnesota. The
Main Street Project Latino Leadership Project, with a strong
base among Spanish-speaking immigrants, has engaged in a
spectrum of civic activities, building upon their important
voter registration and Get Out the Vote (GOTV) activities.
Many families and communities have people of diverse
citizenship status, so this group explores ways people can be
involved and take on leadership, even if they cant vote.

Somali Action Alliance (SAA) was started by OAP
apprentice organizers in 2002, campaigning first to save a
Somali language school and to train other Somali leaders.
SAA has moved from addressing the social issues of this
large refugee community into holding public officials
accountable. They are using sophisticated strategies for voter
registration, drawing out leadership among a population that
did not experience democratic practice in their country of
origin. Muslim community leaders and mosques have been
tapped for leadership roles in supporting increased civic
participation and immigrant integration.

Progressive power would elude these communities if they
werent able to unite beyond their own constituency. One
Take Action Minnesota, has a broad membership of
organizations representing the geographic and demographic
scope of the state, forming common ground between longtime
community and labor leaders and the newcomers. It
works to engage these organizations beyond one-time
campaign mobilizations by increasing their capacity for
effective statewide policy work. Another group, The
Progressive Technology Project, trains the organizations in
the use of the most sophisticated voter registration and

We learned: Financial resources available for
organizing in the Twin Cities, though limited, far
exceed those available in Greater Minnesota

The mis-match of resources is understandable given
guidelines of urban Twin Cities foundations to fund
specifically within the metro area, and this status quo inhibits
the development of strong organizations in Greater
Minnesota. With more adequate funding, there would be
great potential to build a broader, more connected statewide
organizing infrastructure across key smaller cities and rural
areas where immigrant and minority populations are located.
Tying together their overlapping interests in racial and
economic justice would yield a powerfully coordinated
statewide movement.

The Twin Cities: The Role of Place,
Faith, and the Racial Justice Lens

The richness of urban organizing came through during two
site visits in Minneapolis and St. Paul where creativity is
knocking down geographic, racial, and issue boundaries.
We learned: Key anchor organizations in the
Twin Cities are addressing place-based
development issues through a careful analysis
of issues in the metropolitan region and a racial
justice lens.

The McKnight Foundation has been working in the Twin
Cities with the
Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, a
coalition of social justice, environmental, faith-based,
affordable housing, transit, and other organizations dedicated
to eliminating racial and economic disparities in regional
growth and development patterns. The Alliance and three of
their 25 partner organizations -
Jewish Community Action,
MICAH, and ISAIAH (Gamaliel) - worked with Interfaith
Funders as a host committee to plan a full day of site visits.
These groups were key in identifying stories and struggles
which shed light on their linked efforts to create and sustain
more equitable development in the Twin Cities region.

The Alliance notes that the significant amount of energy for
organizing that exists is not just due to the growth of people
of color (110% population increase from 1990 2000) but to
the need to address stubborn racial inequities. For example,
the average Black and Latino families in the Twin Cities
respectively made 52% and 69% of white household average
income. People of color are more likely to be victims of
crime, and to live in poverty or homelessness, and overall,
low income Minnesotans lag in school achievement and
health indicators. (Statistics, Alliance for Metro Stability)

The racial lens is key in the analysis of the region, according
to Alliance Director Russ Adams, "In Minnesota, not talking
about race and not talking about racial justice was clearly
hurting communities of color and also the progressive
movement as a whole. We know that decisions relating to
how growth and development happens in this country, and in
our region, have too often reinforced racial, environmental
and economic disparities and divisions between people. As
the population of people of color continues to increase,
Minnesota must adopt a proactive racial equity agenda to
match the growing concerns of residents of color."

These racial and income gaps are reflected in the huge
disparities across suburban communities and the core cities
of Minneapolis and St. Paul the second worst such
inequality among the forty major U.S. metro areas. Over
two-thirds of new entry-level jobs are in the suburbs, but
nearly one in five inner city households lack an automobile
in a metro region with a grossly underdeveloped transit
system. (Statistics, Alliance for Metro Stability)

Organizing across the changing demographics of suburban
and urban areas is essential for low-income and minority
communities to have a more powerful voice in regional
decisions to distribute public resources, guide growth, and
direct investments. Who decides, and who benefits, from
publicly supported development? Exploration of this
question has fueled a whole array of coalition organizing
efforts around regionally significant, mega-development
projects throughout the Twin Cities.

We learned: Building trust relationships and
multiple-issue principles can shape effective

Over nearly six years, key organizations addressing housing,
transportation, environmental, labor, and community
development have developed a set of common principles and
relationships to enhance their work. There is a growing
recognition that achieving wins in isolation does not always
result in better outcomes for low-income communities. In
fact, comprehensively addressing place-based community
needs can weave together more positive and permanent
outcomes. Organizations have learned to either partner and
share power across these fields or become more adept as
multi-issue organizations. Thus unified, grassroots groups
can collectively pursue integrated and equitable policies that
promote sustainability, economic justice, and social

We learned: The long-standing central role of
strong, metro-wide faith-based organizing
groups is creating new partnerships and tools.

In the Twin Cities, metro-wide faith-based organizations
Jewish Community Action, MICAH, and ISAIAH, an
affiliate of the Gamaliel national network - anchor the
movement for racial and economic justice. These groups
draw on their core values, traditions and justice principles, as
well as the tenets of congregation based community
organizing, to connect specific local campaigns for wise
public/private investments and equitable redevelopment
policies for the strength of the whole. "We were seeing
capacity in this new and creative partnership between faith
organizations and the place based efforts, which is leading to
stronger relationships and creating new tools," says Kathy
Partridge, IF director.

Organizing through Place and Faith:
Two Twin Cities Examples

Cross-sector organizing for equitable development in the
Twin Cities is widespread, and we were able to visit only
two campaigns the Historic Harrison Neighborhood in
Minneapolis, and the planned Central Corridor light rail line
connecting downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. In these
cases, as in other campaigns throughout the metro area,
faith-based organizations are partnered with place-based
groups for powerful organizing building widening
relationships and surfacing concerns, then taking action in
the pursuit of collective demands for policies that benefit
all the members of the community. The two campaigns
have in common their explicit place-based orientation,
which means a diverse range of local people are affected
and must be brought together. Both areas are historic
African-American communities, and are now also home to
many recent immigrants and their organizations. They
share the community benefits agreement strategy, a
framework that states that publicly subsidized
development should help people impacted by the
development, and that there should be legal means to
ensure that promises made are promises kept. The work
in each community is unique, because it is driven by the
specific community and focused on engaging at the local,
grassroots level, yet shares a common fundamental
question: who decides and who benefits from growth
and development?

Historic Harrison Neighborhood: A
congregation anchors the development and
organizing there as
demographics change

This diverse urban neighborhood has been a gateway for
generations of newcomers, but also a dumping ground by
industry. Facing pressures from clear development
opportunities for for-profit developers, the local Redeemer
Lutheran church, a member of the metro-wide
organization, has pulled together a diverse group of
neighborhood organizations serving various communities,
crossing sectors and language barriers to organize a
partnership rooted in relationships that foster trust
through shared action. This place-based experience has
likewise transformed the ISAIAH network in their ever-
deepening journey to apply the racial justice lens. Randy
Keesler of the national Catholic Campaign for Human
Development noted, "The interplay of an experienced
metro wide organizing network and the rootedness of the
local congregation have led to an unusual depth in the
multi-racial relationships in Harrison."

Central Corridor Light Rail project:
Collaboration impacts transportation
infrastructure policy for equity

University Avenue in St. Paul is now home to a thriving
string of locally owned, often minority-led businesses that
fear they wont survive a multi-year, $900 million light rail
line construction project to link the sparkling downtowns
of the Twin Cities. This is a place where community
organizing and community development come together.
Tension quickly rises to the surface, given the bitter
memories of the historic African American Rondo
neighborhood that was literally split in two by a 1950s
interstate highway project. The current light rail
alignment and station plans pass by three key
intersections where the large minority communities would
benefit from proximity and access. This vital urban transit
way is home to a complex network of community groups
organizing local residents to shape and design the Central
Corridor LRT project and future development along the
avenue. Local faith-based organizations in particular
Jewish Community Action with support from the Alliance for
Metro Stability has facilitated the complex interests
involved and the many organizing efforts along the
Corridor to build a common table where high stakes
decisions are made. The "Stops 4 Us" campaign succinctly
expresses the communities' call for transportation equity.
They are using creativity, research, and alliance-building to
satisfactorily address the questions: How do you balance
the promise of new public and private investments with
the threats of gentrification and displacement of local
businesses and residents? Who will have access to new
construction jobs? Will transit-dependent neighborhoods
along the corridor have stops or be passed by when the
line opens?
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Minnesota in Focus: Pro-active
Organizing is Shaping Outcomes

The organizing in Greater Minnesota, neighborhoods like
Harrison, and along the Central Corridor are examples of a
common and growing statewide phenomenon of proactive
work that shapes expectations about civic engagement and
future development in every community. Organizations press
to establish ground rules by which the public and private
sector must interact with low-income communities and
provide added benefits beyond physical infrastructure.
Community Benefit Agreements, racial analysis impact
statements, comprehensive plans and basic zoning
regulations all can build the expectation of higher returns
from growth than just the financial bottom line. Susan Engh
of the ELCA comments, "it shows foresight and perspective
when these organizations work for comp plans or to fight
exclusionary zoning in the suburbs, because by targeting
these policies as tools for change, they win at a larger scale
than single-issue local campaigns can."

Funders in Dialogue:
Opportunities for Collaboration

The Oct. 2008 Focus MN briefing concluded with a
national/local funder conversation to explore how to
better provide resources to these organizing efforts and
groups in the Twin Cities and statewide. How can
national, regional, and local funders partner together? Can
we build more synergy by collaborating cross the "silos"
of specific funding interests?

To work as peers, funders need to find the
interconnections and move across different strategies,
using positive experience rather than focusing on gaps.
Cris Doby of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation notes,
"given the current financial environment, it's critical and
timely for funders and organizations to build long-term
strategic relationships and address complex issues by
better integrating our multiple approaches." We came
away with confirmation of our belief in the value of
integrating diverse perspectives, and with enthusiasm for
partnering with organizing collaboratives and between
local and national funders.

We hope this will be the beginning of an ongoing effort in
Minnesota to:

Spark broader interest and funding for community
organizing efforts.
Nurture organizing efforts to become effective
multiple issue organizations that can share power
across a broad range of issues related to equity.
Create a network of funders willing to cut across
funding silos (like immigration, housing, or faith
communities alone) to encourage movement across
issue, geographic, and other barriers
Develop new ways for national funders to work with
regional and local funders around community
organizing with deeper and sustained relationships.
photos by Sharon Ramirez