Today we are thrilled to announce a partnership we have entered into with the Minnesota-based Blandin Foundation. Strong Towns has been awarded a 3-year, $150,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation to pursue an aggressive work plan designed to mature, spread and implement the Strong Towns vision. This is our first major grant award and an exciting development for the Strong Towns movement.
First, a little about the Blandin Foundation.
Blandin Foundation strengthens rural Minnesota communities by investing in community leaders and working with partners to expand opportunity for all rural residents, especially in the Grand Rapids area. Located in Grand Rapids, Minn., it is one of only a handful of foundations in the U.S. focused exclusively on rural communities and the largest rural-based private foundation in Minnesota. Information on Blandin Foundation grant-making, leadership development programs and public policy initiatives are at www.blandinfoundation.org.
One of the aspects of this award that may be of greatest interest to our readers is how it came about. Last December we (finally) attained our 501(c)3 status. We contacted a number of foundations that we felt would be a good match for what we are doing to see if we could have a sit down. The Blandin Foundation jumped at the opportunity, inviting us up to Grand Rapids for a mini-Curbside Chat.
On our first visit, we spent over two hours there and never even finished half of the Chat presentation. The ideas started bouncing around immediately and they kept bringing in more of their staff to participate in what was an exciting conversation. It was a great "first date" because we all saw immediately how we could help each other tremendously. I left there really invigorated.
In the following months we worked together to put things in place. They requested a three-year work plan outlining everything we thought we could accomplish that needed to be done in that time frame. It is an exciting plan! They attended one of our Chats to see things for themselves, did their homework to thoroughly vet us and asked us a lot questions about Strong Towns. It all culminated in a three-year commitment to each other, which we are really excited to be able to announce today.
Let us also share a little about the actual work plan. We split up our approach into four different areas. Those are:
- Communications and Outreach - This blog, the podcast, the YouTube Channel and, of course, the Curbside Chat program. The plan we submitted calls on us to do 36 Chats each year (sign up to have us come to your community).
- Research and Reports - We identified key areas of knowledge that were either missing or needed to be further developed if the Strong Towns approach is going to become the default option for New Economy communities. The plan has us preparing two or three of these reports each year. (Stay tuned for the first one, which is in a second draft right now and will tentatively be released in September.)
- Tool Creation - There are a lot of great ideas out there -- things that cross the traditional professional silos -- that should be available to communities. Stuff like road and street standards, innovations in coding, etc... One major obstacle to implementation is a translater; someone to take the good work that has been done and put it in a format that can be adopted by a community "out-of-the-box", along with a Strong Towns narrative and approach to overcome frequent obstacles. Fortunately, the three of us have worked extensively in the trenches and know how to make this translation happen.
- Implementation - We will identify a handful of communities each year that we will partner with to implement the tools that have been created. This is all about the hard work of building success stories that others can emulate.
The work plan has a budget of around $230,000 per year; around $700,000 for the complete three years. Their pledge of $150,000 is an amazing start, and while we are truly honored by their faith in us, we obviously we have a long ways yet to go. We have engaged with other foundations and potential-funding organizations in the hopes of adding additional resources. Having the support of an organization with the credibility and track record of Blandin is going to help us open a lot of closed doors.
(As a side note: We're focusing most intensely on identifying an urban-focused partner. We love Blandin's rural focus and believe the Strong Towns message uniquely resonates for small towns and rural areas in a way I intimately grasp. That having been said, Strong Towns as an organization is focused on all aspects of our development pattern -- urban, suburban and rural -- and want to make sure we can always clearly communicate that. Strong Towns is an approach for every block and neighborhood in America.)
Finally, I want to sincerely thank you, our readers and supporters, for what you have done to help us get to this point. When we can show up at an organization like Blandin and show them our readership numbers, the quality of discussion and number of followers on our Facebook site, the Twitter stream of Strong Towns thought you share, the written feedback you have sent us and -- most importantly -- the impressive list of people signed up to donate $5, $10, $25 or $50 each month to support the Strong Towns message....well, that gives us more credibility than you can possibly imagine.
Up to this point, Strong Towns has been the combined efforts of the three of us -- Jon, Ben and myself -- working evenings and weekends, using our "spare" time and energy, challenging ourselves to move beyond each of our professional silos to develop a set of principles and approaches for community success in the New Economy. Strong Towns is entering a new phase. I, for one, am excited to get to work on it.
Keep doing what you can to make your town a Strong Town.
If you would like to provide financial support to Strong Towns and the Strong Towns movement, you can make a tax deductible contribution right here on our website.