When the board of directors at the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation wanted to honor their founder, William McKnight, they turned to his home state of South Dakota and offered a challenge: “start a community foundation, raise $5 million, and along with 3M Company, we’ll match it.”
And so, Governor George S. Mickelson called his good friend and legislator Bernie Christenson and said, “let’s do this.” On November 11, 1987—30 years ago this month—the South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF) was born.
“Mr. McKnight was born in a sod-covered house on the prairie in White, South Dakota, and educated in a one-room frontier schoolhouse. Even as he achieved enormous professional success, he never lost his Midwestern pragmatism and the belief in extending opportunity to help others innovate,” explains Kate Wolford, president of McKnight Foundation.
An early leader of 3M Corporation, William McKnight rose from assistant bookkeeper to president and CEO in a career that spanned 59 years. He established the foundation with his wife Maude in 1953.
The couple hoped to improve the quality of life for present and future generations through the work of the foundation. With a primary geographic focus in Minnesota, the foundation today makes grants in support of regional economic and community development, to arts and artists, education equity, youth engagement, climate and energy, Mississippi River water quality, neuroscience and international crop research, and community-building.
The McKnight Foundation made several challenge grants during the time SDCF was founded as a way to help start and grow locally-led organizations that could serve their communities far into the future. “We appreciate how a challenge grant can leverage additional support from other community members and sometimes from public sources as well,” Wolford says.
The initial investment made by McKnight and 3M has today lead to a community foundation with assets of $300 million… and growing. With Community Savings Accounts (CSAs) in approximately 80 communities, SDCF has truly embraced William McKnight’s vision for his foundation, and for a state he cared for deeply.
“We will continue to support and tap the wisdom of the people who are closest to our program areas,” Wolford adds. “We also seek to strengthen our relevance, credibility and effectiveness by embracing change, including new community members and new opportunities.”