What's Behind the $1 Million for Minnesota Tribal Colleges from NWAF

The Northwest Area Foundation (NWAF) recently awarded $1 million in grants for the American Indian College Fund. Over the next two years, the money will support students at five tribal colleges in the Minnesota area. NWAF plans to monitor what the colleges do with their investment. Ultimately, they hope to develop scalable strategies for other philanthropists interested in putting money into tribal colleges.

The million dollars from NWAF follows a $5,000 grant that they made to the American Indian Colleges Fund this past October in support of the 2012 Flame of Hope Gala. In its 17th year, the gala succeeded in raising an additional $650,000 for first American college students.

In addition to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), its parent organization, the American Indian College Fund is one of the largest lobbying efforts in support of first Americans. This fund is also one of the primary providers of financial support for tribal colleges and first Americans receiving post-secondary education at other types of schools, according to a 2002 report: "Financing Tribal Colleges."

Next to $1.5 million for the Children’s Home Society of Washington, the $1 million to the College Fund is the largest single grant NWAF has made in the past few years. With the onset of the recession, NWAF cut back their giving and became more of a short-term grant maker. In years past, they guaranteed funding for a decade or longer; more recent grantees are lucky to receive more than two consecutive years of supprt.

NWAF's 2011 annual report explains the ultimate goal of their philanthropy as "change — a realignment of funds, policy and perspective that [would] make it possible for low-income people to earn a living wage and build a foundation for future prosperity." Besides funding organizations like tribal colleges, NWAF also pursues their agenda by investing "in efforts that build advocacy muscle for improved public policy."

In 2008, NWAF detailed a "new strategic plan" for their philanthropy. They previously funded "newly created organizations" that sought to "engage entire communities." In the future, NWAF plans to support any group whose agenda mirrors their own.