The Initiative Foundation improves the quality of life in Central Minnesota through grant-making, training and social enterprise capacity-building.
In the midst of the 1980s rural farm crisis, the McKnight Foundation decided to expand its focus from the Twin Cities to rural communities throughout Minnesota. The Initiative Foundation, celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2016, was born out of this vision to improve the quality of life in Central Minnesota.
The Initiative Foundation realizes its mission through loans, financing, grants, programs, donor services and charitable funds. Since 2013, its Financial Resiliency through Social Enterprise (FRSE) program has provided valuable resources to local nonprofits looking to diversify their revenue streams and become more sustainable.
Currently in its fifth cohort, FRSE accepts five to eight nonprofit teams each round for four day-long training sessions over a nine-month period. Participating nonprofits start with the basics, generate and evaluate social enterprise ideas, and then flesh out one of their ideas into a business model and plan. FRSE also explores legal challenges and solutions, and provides marketing and branding guidance. As part of the training, FRSE participants receive modest grants to support their social enterprise efforts, 15 hours of complimentary consulting and technical assistance, and resource referral.
As of September 2016, the program has graduated 27 nonprofits. Though not all participants go on to start social enterprise ventures, the program curriculum helps all participants learn the business development process. One success story is the Enterprise Market in Little Falls, which employs people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, autism and related conditions that present barriers to employment. Through the selling of bulk nonperishable foods and merchandise, Enterprise Market has already exceeded growth projections since it opened in 2015.
The Initiative Foundation created FRSE in partnership with the Nonprofits Assistance Fund, a fellow SEA member. They also enlisted small business development experts, research and marketing consultants, and resources like the businesses model canvas to develop their curriculum.
As eight nonprofits complete the fifth round of FRSE, the Initiative Foundation is exploring new ways to continue to support Central Minnesota nonprofits with their social enterprise efforts. Again partnering with the Nonprofits Assistance Fund, the Initiative Foundation will offer an “ FRSE 2.0” program for graduates of the initial FRSE training and nonprofits that are more advanced in their enterprise development process. This will provide organizations with next-level support and training as they work to improve and scale their businesses.
At the heart of the Initiative Foundation’s mission is strengthening the economy and communities of Central Minnesota. Through its FRSE curriculum and plans for next-level support, the Initiative Foundation will continue to power innovative and effective solutions for the communities it supports.