What Minnesota Nonprofits Should Know About the Blandin Foundation

Grand rapids, Minnesota. photo: Jacob Boomsma/shutterstock

Grand rapids, Minnesota. photo: Jacob Boomsma/shutterstock

The Grand Rapids, Minnesota-based Blandin Foundation is all about supporting local nonprofits and especially the rural areas throughout the state. Despite its focus on small places, this is one of the biggest funders to know in the Upper Midwest region and an important one to watch right now during the foundation’s time of transition.

Dating back to 1941, the Blandin Foundation has been aiding and promoting the town of Grand Rapids, Minnesota and the surrounding area. It is the legacy of Charles Blandin, who was a teacher, newspaperman, and industrialist in the region. What sets this foundation apart from many of the others in Minnesota is Blandin’s dedication to rural areas. More specifically, Blandin prioritizes the communities of Bigfork, Blackduck, Bovey, Calumet, Coleraine, Deer River, Grand Rapids, Hill City, Keewatin, Marble, Nashwauk, Northome, and Taconite.

In the foundation’s most recent round of giving, it awarded 53 grants totaling over $3.2 million, which is on par with what Blandin typically awards in its cycles. The newest grants ranged from as low as $500 and as high as $2.1 million. Overall, big priorities for this funder are consistent with building vibrant communities and boosting community leadership, which extends to grantmaking for many issue different areas, such as arts and culture, mental health, healthy food, and immigration.

Yet one of the most noticeable interest areas this time around was early childhood education, a topic that received $2.1 million in ongoing support. Other high-need local issues that are high on Blandin’s radar are youth workforce training and the needs of local veterans.

Meanwhile, something else that the Blandin Foundation announced, in addition to these new grants, was that it has launched a national CEO search due to the upcoming retirement of Dr. Kathleen Annette in 2020. Annette has been the foundation’s president and CEO since 2011. The foundation is in time of transition right now, not only because of the CEO transition, but also because of a shift in leadership on the board of directors. The funder recently welcomed three new board members from Minnesota to its team after a separate statewide search.

Blandin is a local funder with a very specific mission and target demographic, so we don’t expect to see an overwhelming number of changes made internally through these leadership shifts. However, these types of transitional times after often when grantmaking strategies are tweaked and processes refined.

Nonprofits that serve rural Minnesota communities of 35,000 residents or less should definitely sign up for the funder’s e-newsletter, if they haven’t already, to be among the first to know about new changes and be aware of the upcoming deadlines. This is actually pretty easy to keep track of since applications for Itasca Area grants of $100 to $1,000, short timeline grants of $1,001 to $10,000, small project grants of $10,001 to $50,000, and Blandin Leadership Program grants are accepted all throughout the year. The exception is large-scale projects that receive over $50,000 grants, as these have application deadlines four times per year on the 15th of March, June, September, and December.

To learn more about recent Blandin giving in Minnesota, here is a list of June 2019 grant awards with project descriptions and award amounts.