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It’s Not Just the Words . . . It’s Your Reaction

Slice of PieI read with interest Lori Sturdevant’s opinion piece in the Strib about homelessness, bonding priorities and the size of the state of Minnesota’s bonding pie.

It appears that emotional reactions to just two little words may be blocking funding for some life-changing services at Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center (and for other urgent projects).

What are the words?  One billion.

Sturdevant and others have written and talked at length about the artificial $1 billion bonding ceiling.  Logic tells us that $1 billion 20 years ago does not equal $1 billion today.  So why the limit?

We’ll it’s not about logic, it’s about emotion.  After all, can’t you just feel it in your gut that borrowing more than $1 billion is just too much (even if interest rates are at an all-time low)?

In a post earlier this year on MCF’s Philanthropy Potluck Blog (“Sparking Action: What to Say and How to Say It“), I wrote about some sage persuasive communications advice from Bradford Fitch, president of the Congressional Management Foundation:

” . . . most of us have a flawed perception of how our brains work: We think we make decisions by thinking and analyzing, but we really make decisions by seeing and feeling.”

So that makes me wonder . . . how might Catholic Charities and the dozens of other organizations in line for bonding appropriations reframe the conversation so we see it — and feel it — in a new light?  Certainly each one of their causes is worthy . . . and each has a multitude of stories that can instantly evoke a tear or a smile.  But how could they jointly negate visceral reactions to “$1 billion?”

In the waning days of this legislative session, I hope some astute policymakers and influencers in St. Paul can find the words that will arouse more positive feelings.  Then, maybe our legislators can see the way to increasing the size of the bonding pie . . . and leaders of our homeless shelters and other deserving projects won’t need to fight over the last slice.

Photo cc Pernilla Rydmark

Teenage Girls are Blooming Flowers

GIA_2012When supporters at a Girls in Action fundraising luncheon last week heard this line — “Teenage girls are blooming flowers.” — they broke into broad smiles and enthusiastic applause.

Was it just spring fever?   Maybe, but that phrase does seem to capture the essence of this group’s work . . . to make sure every young woman — from North Minneapolis to Guatemala City — receives the nurturing she needs to blossom and achieve.

For a quick introduction to this dynamic mentoring program, take a look at this KARE 11 clip that features founder Dr. Verna Cornelia Price and girls in the program:

In the years since this aired, Girls in Action expanded across the metro, across the country to Detroit, and even to Guatemala.  Now reaching well over 2300 girls, the program focuses on motivating, mentoring, empowering, engaging and educating girls to succeed in school and life.

At the luncheon, program director Natalie Johnson Lee shared an impressive list of outcomes, such as a 95-percent graduation rate.  Lee and others thanked many partners and supporters, including such philanthropy leaders as Catherine Jordan (previously with AchieveMpls), Sandy Vargas of The Minneapolis Foundation, and Wokie Weah of Youthprise, among others.

Attending this event was my first chance to learn about Girls in Action.  It seems the group’s close collaboration with the schools is a real plus — because it breaks down barriers to access and boosts academic achievement.

Enthusiastic, emotional testimonials from program alumni also provided ample evidence that mentoring programs such as Girls in Action really do make a difference.  When they give and receive respect, girls can definitely bloom and thrive.

(For more about the benefits of mentoring, see my post on the Minnesota Council on Foundation’s Philanthropy Potluck Blog, “Young or Old, Mentoring Matters.”)

Nurturing a Seedling of Hope

SeedlingI start this blog with a sense of hope.  Just like the optimism that compelled me to plant seeds in my garden last Saturday . . . even though miserably chilly, rainy weather was forecast for the week ahead.

Nonprofit leaders and philanthropists are eternal optimists, too.  Filled with hope, ambition and courage, they believe they can plant and nurture seeds that will ultimately change society’s landscape.

I envision my blog to become a sort of raised garden bed for worthy causes.  In a raised bed, plants enjoy a little extra warmth from the sun’s rays.  With my posts, I’ll try to shine a bit more nourishing light on all varieties of charitable activities.   Sometimes I’ll write about the newest nonprofit hybrids that promise big yields.  Sometimes I’ll feature heirloom organizations that have resisted blight and delivered bushels of common good in our communities for decades.

A raised garden bed and a bit of mulch also help ensure seeds and plants have a steady supply of moisture for healthy growth.  In my posts I plan to sprinkle in resources from across the independent sector — including from Minnesota institutions (such as the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, MAP for Nonprofits, Charities Review Council, and Nonprofits Assistance Fund) and from national and international thought leaders.

So, I’m simply the gardener.  If you’d like to supply some seeds of ideas that promise positive change in our communities, contact me.  I may add them to my garden bed to see if a little extra light will foster growth.  But no promises . . . because this blog is organic.  With favorable conditions seedlings may sometimes leaf out, blossom and bear fruit.  And sometimes the harsh environment may stunt their growth.  But that’s okay.  We’ll still have hope for next year’s abundant harvest.

(P.S. For the gardening record, in a previous season of my life, I also worked to lift up promising ideas to the light.  Search on “Wehr” to see some of my posts on the Minnesota Council on Foundation’s Philanthropy Potluck Blog.)