Disaster Philanthropy Playbook

Spotlight on the Minneapolis Foundation

The Minneapolis Foundation (TMF) has a rich history of providing disaster relief aid to communities in crisis, both within Minneapolis, further out in greater Minnesota and across the country. TMF’s success in raising funds from its own donors and external donors has continued to grow with each disaster relief effort. TMF has served as a grantmaker that works with the community involved and convenes an experienced group that are on the ground to make decisions and distribute funds quickly and effectively while providing oversight and accountability to the donors.

Three early examples of TMF’s disaster relief grantmaking campaigns are the 1997 Minnesota Helps – Flood Recovery – Red River Valley, 1998 Minnesota Helps – Storm Recovery Fund St. Peter Tornado and the 2005 Minnesota Helps – Hurricane Katrina. With the 1997 MN Helps Flood Recovery Fund, $109,544.71 was given to flood survivors. When the St. Peter tornado hit in May, 1998, the Minnesota Helps Fund was set up again, this time collecting and giving $63,754.71 to help rebuilding efforts. Later, when the disastrous 2005 Hurricane Katrina struck, Minnesota Helps banded together once more, and distributed $535,972.82 to those struck by the devastation.

More recently, The Minneapolis Foundation was an integral partner in the recovery from the August 1, 2007 35-W bridge collapse disaster in which 13 people were killed and 145 were injured. The Minnesota Helps – Bridge Disaster Fund collected $1,268,369 and disbursed (with the addition of interest income) $1,287,933. The fund was created just two days after the disaster. Then-Mayor R.T. Rybak requested The Minneapolis Foundation take the lead on setting up a fund that would provide an efficient way to pool contributions from the public. An initial $225,000 in seed money was contributed by The Minneapolis Foundation, The Saint Paul Foundation, Minnesota Community Foundation, Greater Twin Cities United Way, McKnight Foundation, Northwest Area Foundation, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation. Contributions came almost immediately from foundations, corporations and their employees, faith groups, community organizations, fundraisers, and thousands of individuals.

Approximately 20% of the distributions were made as grants to agencies that provided a variety of services, such as group counseling and activities for the children on the Waite House school bus that had been on the bridge at the time of collapse, trauma and grief support groups, and helping families with translation services. The other 80% of contributions were distributed to pay for medical bills, living expenses, transportation costs, medical equipment, physical therapy, and other expenses on direct behalf of 110 individuals or families.

An inter-agency Long-Term Recovery Committee (LTRC) was formed with membership from the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Salvation Armies, Hennepin County, Pillsbury Waite House, Greater Twin Cities United Way and The Minneapolis Foundation to coordinate the case-by-case assistance to individuals and families. A LTRC is a standard structure created in the aftermath of a disaster to coordinate community resources to help survivors reach a point of stability. It provides a means to distribute private contributions to cover immediate expenses not covered by insurance or other resources. This emergency response effort and the role of the LTRC is a model now being used by other communities to respond to disasters. This was an historical and collaborative effort of many philanthropic, nonprofit entities.

The Minnesota Helps Fund was activated again in 2011, within 24 hours of the May 22nd tornado that struck North Minneapolis. The Minneapolis Foundation partnered with Greater Twin Cities United Way to seed the fund with a $200,000 challenge grant to spark more donations and partnered with GiveMN.org to accept online contributions. More than two dozen foundations contributed to the fund, along with numerous local businesses and individuals. The fund reached $1 million within a month and ultimately raised and distributed $1.7 million to help people and neighborhoods recover from the storm. With damages estimated at $166 million and FEMA denying assistance to those impacted, this funding provided a lifeline for uninsured households looking for shelter, and a bridge for families working through their insurance companies to get repairs taken care of before the cold weather set in. One hundred percent of the money raised was distributed back to help North Minneapolis residents get their lives back on track.

More than 60,000 North Minneapolis residents were assisted thanks to the generosity of Minnesota Helps Fund contributors. Over the summer, youth cleared debris from local parks and 200 homes and helped rebuild 147 homes and apartment buildings. About 1,700 young people participated in summer programs and received 6,500 meals. More than 200 children went on field trips to give them a break from their damaged parks and neighborhoods. Donations supported emergency relief and met longer-term needs including food, housing, counseling, transportation, childcare, and more. Many children were traumatized by the tornado – either from witnessing it directly or from how it affected their families’ lives. Minnesota Helps supported counseling for children and training for teachers and summer camp workers to spot distress in children and help them overcome fears. Hundreds of individuals and families received help with home repairs, as well as legal assistance in mediating conflicts between tenants and landlords.   Legal help was also available to help people track down and get reimbursed by “storm chaser” contractors who accepted payment, but either didn’t do the work or did sub-par work. Minority contractors, most from North Minneapolis, were trained and certified to participate in the recovery, providing an economic boon to the neighborhood. Over a thousand individuals received clean clothes, food and water in the days following the tornado. Additional supplies were distributed to help clean their homes and meet basic needs including provision of new IDs, access to food stamps, housing assistance, behavioral health, and other services. More than 51,000 individuals received food and cooking supplies through Second Harvest Food Bank, and Urban Homeworks repaired nearly 300 homes in the aftermath of the tornado.

With dozens of local agencies serving thousands of people each with various needs, the need for collaboration quickly became clear. The Northside Community Response Team (NCRT) formed to ensure all residents were assisted, efforts weren’t duplicated, and funding was used as efficiently as possible. The 20 participating agencies were able to streamline the process, creating a hotline to connect people with a caseworker to get them the help they needed. This process helped 1,233 households receive assistance.

The close relationships The Minneapolis Foundation has with organizations on the Northside led to a powerful and thoughtful response, one that was directed by the neighborhoods affected. Our expertise in giving, community issues, and local nonprofits ensured services were delivered effectively, comprehensively, and transparently.