The story of how the largest and strongest state association of nonprofits in the U.S. came to be goes back to 1983. In that year, a coalition of 130 nonprofit organizations joined to reform corporate and foundation grantmaking. They called it the Philanthropy Project.

For three years, the Philanthropy Project, led by Jon Pratt, brought together nonprofits of all types, sizes, and locations around the state to tell the story of community needs and philanthropy’s support. The Project’s final report in 1986, Minnesota Philanthropy and Disadvantaged People, documented the rise in philanthropic support for low income individuals, women, and communities of color during the life of the Project, from 28 percent in 1982 to 38.1 percent in 1985, an increase of $14 million per year.

Many involved with the Philanthropy Project saw the benefits of the sector joining together for mutual benefit. A group of leaders gathered to discuss what the future held for the nonprofit sector and what they could do together. The group included Marcia Avner from the Minnesota Project, Yusef Mgeni from the Urban Coalition, Joe Selvaggio from Project for Pride in Living, Margy Weber from the Community Clinic Consortium, Rafael Ortega from Hispanic Ministry Project, Fred Smith from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, Julian Loscalzo from Neighborhood Justice Center, Jon Pratt as executive director of the Philanthropy Project, and two dozen others.

Together, they designed a new organization that would create a more powerful voice for nonprofits and give nonprofits the capacity to do together what they could not do apart. The new organization would be called the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Since the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits began operations on January 1, 1987 as a new association of nonprofit organizations, it has continually expanded services and advocacy to strengthen the nonprofit sector. In addition to MCN’s history of legislative accomplishments for Minnesota’s nonprofits, MCN has:

  • Served over 2,200 member organizations – more nonprofit members than any other state of nonprofits association in the U.S.;
  • Brought services, events, and resources to nonprofits statewide by forming six regional chapters since 1998 in Central Minnesota, Northeast Minnesota, Northwest Minnesota, Southeast Minnesota, Southwest Minnesota, and West Central Minnesota;
  • Negotiated member discounts with 15 cost saving partners, saving nonprofits millions of dollars;
  • Hosted more than 80 annual conferences for 70,000 attendees and featuring over 2,000 speakers. Conferences have focused on topics ranging from communications and fundraising to leadership and financial management, and have been hosted in St. Paul, Duluth, Rochester, St. Cloud, Bemidji, Mankato, and beyond.
  • Been an early adapter for web technology, creating its first online service, C3Net in 1989. Since then, MCN has relaunched and reimagined its web presence in several iterations. Its current site sees more than 30,000 unique visitors per week.

The core organizational elements set out in that 1986 strategy meeting have remained constant. MCN maintains a democratic membership structure and representative board. In representing the sector, MCN serves as an advocate for issues facing the broad range of nonprofit organizations and promotes the importance of nonprofits to our communities. As an organization, it continues to deliver information through large formats, such as conferences and online, and frequently in partnership with allied organizations.

Most importantly, MCN has grown from a good idea to a solid foundation of member organizations and committed nonprofit leaders. With this base, MCN is well-positioned to organize the nonprofit sector to take on its next set of political and economic challenges – so that nonprofit organizations accomplish their missions for a healthy, cooperative, and just society.