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Our History

A Vital Force for
Gender & Racial Justice

Founded in 1983, the Women’s Foundation is the first statewide women’s foundation in the nation and remains the only grantmaking organization in Minnesota dedicated exclusively to growing equity and justice for women, girls, and gender-expansive people.

How it All Started

Minnesota women and girls needed a statewide organization to champion and invest in their dreams. The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota began as a force for gender equity. Our founders across the state, from grassroots activists to active philanthropists, were united by a powerful common goal to create an enduring legacy of equality for women and girls. They were deeply concerned about two related issues: the small proportion of philanthropic support allocated to women and girls in Minnesota — less than 3 percent — and the fact that support did not address the need for long-term system-wide change.

The Women’s Foundation was originally established as a designated area fund of The Minneapolis Foundation, and in 1989, became a separate and independent public charity 501(c)3. In 1997, the Women’s Foundation reached its founding goal of securing $10 million in invested assets. This goal was made possible through the generous support of foundations, corporations, and the collective contributions of women and men, including women of color, urban and suburban women, rural women, women with disabilities, and women from all educational and socioeconomic levels throughout Minnesota.

In 2019, the Women’s Foundation expanded its mission to include racial equity, capturing the centrality of the Intersectional Equity Framework, which guides all internal and external work.


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What is a community foundation?

Community foundations are the original place-based grantmakers, and bring together grassroots leaders and donors to improve the lives of people in our communities.

Community foundations are grantmaking public charities that are dedicated to improving the lives of people in a defined local geographic area. They bring together the financial resources of individuals, families, and businesses to support effective nonprofits in their communities. Community foundations vary widely in asset size, ranging from less than $100,000 to more than $1.7 billion.

Community foundations play a key role in identifying and solving community problems. In 2011, they gave an estimated $4.3 billion to a variety of nonprofit activities in fields that included the arts and education, health and human services, the environment, and disaster relief. The Community Foundations National Standards Board confirms operational excellence in six key areas—mission, structure, and governance; resource development; stewardship and accountability; grantmaking and community leadership; donor relations; and communications. Foundations that comply with these standards can display the official National Standards Seal. Right now nearly 500 community foundations have earned the seal.

How does a community foundation work?

A community foundation is governed by a board of directors of community leaders and is administered by professional staff. Operating expenses are paid from an annual fund fee and from gifts designated by donors to cover foundation operating and program costs.

How do community foundations differ from private foundations?

A community foundation is supported by a broad and ever-widening group of unrelated individuals, families, corporations, and institutions. The only thing that connects all of our donors is a desire to improve local communities.

Because of their broad base of support, community foundations are classified by the IRS as publicly-supported charities. This gives community foundations tax advantages not enjoyed by private foundations.

Private foundations, by contrast, are generally supported by a single individual, family, or business. Rarely does it make sense to establish a private foundation if the principal endowment is not large.

What is an endowment?

An endowment is a type of fund that is set up to produce income for charitable purposes. A typical endowment fund will distribute only the income generated from investments; its principal will never be distributed. A typical distribution rate from a foundation endowment fund is 4-5% per year. The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota distribution rate is 6%, as recommended by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

An endowment fund is likely (though not, of course, certain) to remain permanent as long as principal is never invaded, and as long as the distribution rate reflects the long-term growth patterns of investments.

What are the tax advantages of donating to a foundation?

We offer the best tax advantages for charitable donations available under law, qualified under section 501(c)(3) of the internal revenue code. By avoiding classification as a private foundation, we can offer greater tax advantages than a private foundation.