McKnight Foundation

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McKnight Foundation
McKnight Foundation
Founded 1953
Founder William L. McKnight and Maude L. McKnight
Area served
Key people
Meghan Binger Brown, Board Chair; Kate Wolford, President[1]
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015) $111,372,797[3]
Endowment $2.2 billion USD[2]

The McKnight Foundation is a philanthropic organization based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the US. In 2015, McKnight awarded around $88 million in grants. The foundation’s program interests include regional economic and community development, Minnesota’s arts and artists, education equity, youth engagement, Midwest climate and energy, Mississippi River water quality, neuroscience research, international crop research, and rural livelihoods. McKnight’s primary geographic focus is the state of Minnesota, with significant support also directed to strategies throughout the U.S. and in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.[2]

The McKnight Foundation was founded in 1953 by William L. McKnight, an early leader of the 3M Corporation, and Maude L. McKnight,[4] and was independently endowed by the McKnights.

Bolstered by the estates of William and Maude McKnight, the foundation's assets grew substantially in the 1980s. In 2015, the foundation assets were approximately $2.2 billion.[2] The McKnight Foundation was ranked twenty-second on the Foundation Center's list of the largest private foundations in America.[4]

In April 2013, the foundation announced a new program area focused on regional climate and energy issues, granting $25 million to two longtime partners working in those areas.[5]

Program Areas[edit]

The McKnight Foundation’s program areas are Arts, Education & Learning, International, Midwest Climate & Energy, MN Initiative Foundations, Mississippi River, Neuroscience, and Region & Communities.


The McKnight Foundation funds arts-based organizations and projects, as well as individual artists through its McKnight Artist Fellowships and Distinguished Artist Award. In addition to statewide grantmaking and fellowship programs, the foundation helps fund Minnesota’s 11 Regional Arts Councils, which were established by the Minnesota Legislature in 1977 to encourage local art and cultural activity throughout the state.

Education and Learning[edit]

The McKnight Foundation’s Education & Learning program goal is to prepare Minnesota students to succeed in an increasingly global society by investing in educators, empowering families, and engaging youth.

This goal promotes educational equity and encompasses both the business and the civic case for ensuring that students in Minnesota succeed. The foundation wants children to emerge from school systems prepared to thrive in a competitive, globalized economy and to contribute meaningfully to the social fabric of civic life.


Focusing on sustaining and improving the livelihoods of vulnerable people, McKnight’s international program supports balanced approaches to natural resource management and community resource rights. McKnight created the Collaborative Crop Research Program in 1983 to support agricultural research in developing countries, increasing access to local, sustainable, and nutritious food.

Midwest Climate and Energy[edit]

McKnight's climate-related work seeks to help community leaders develop climate solutions that can be replicated across the Midwest, with the goal of building low-carbon communities and economies that are vibrant, equitable, and resilient. The focus is on building a clean and resilient power sector, as well as engaging rural and urban communities to be strong energy and climate advocates. McKnight works towards this goal through grants to organizations combating climate change, as well as through investments in companies that align with the foundation’s climate goals.

Minnesota Initiative Foundations[edit]

The McKnight Foundation works to strengthen Minnesota outside of the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area by supporting six independent grantmaking regional foundations. Each foundation’s priorities are decided by citizens of its own region, granting and loaning to support economic development and community building.

Mississippi River[edit]

The McKnight Foundation seeks to restore water quality and resilience of the Mississippi River through two strategies: protecting floodplains and wetlands along the river corridor, and reducing agricultural pollution in four states along the northern half of the river.


Neuroscience was a particular area of interest of McKnight Foundation founder William L. McKnight — specifically brain biology and diseases affecting memory. The Neuroscience Program is McKnight’s oldest research program, and is overseen by the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience, an independent organization funded exclusively by The McKnight Foundation.

Region and Communities[edit]

McKnight supports the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area by promoting sustainable, equitable development with the goal of creating livable communities and expanding opportunities for all. Grants and investments are used to advance the strategies of expanding affordable housing, increasing access to transportation, and creating economically vibrant neighborhoods.

Impact Investing[edit]

In 2014, The McKnight Foundation committed to investing $200 million, or 10% of its $2 billion endowment, in strategies that align with McKnight’s mission. In addition to generating a financial return, this money is invested with three goals: quickening a transition to a low-carbon economy, protecting the Mississippi River, and contributing to a thriving, sustainable Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area.[6] McKnight’s president Kate Wolford believes impact investing is vital to serving the foundations fiduciary duty, saying “As a philanthropic fiduciary, we would embrace our role as institutional owners of our assets alongside our traditional role as grantmakers. We would consider the use of all of our resources to advance mission and public benefit, rather than just the five percent required payout for charitable purpose.”[7] As part of their commitment to impact investing, McKnight shares detailed information about their investees and their performance.[8]


  1. ^ "Staff & Board". McKnight Foundation. Retrieved 2016-10-18. 
  2. ^ a b c "About The McKnight Foundation: Overview". Retrieved 2016-10-18. 
  3. ^ a b "McKnight Foundation" (PDF). Foundation Center. 18 November 2016. Retrieved 11 July 2017. 
  4. ^ a b Colleen Frankhart "DEEP Pockets," Planning, volume 75, issue 1, January 2009.
  5. ^ "McKnight Foundation Launches Climate and Energy Program, Announces $25 Million in Grants". Retrieved 18 October 2016. 
  6. ^ "Focusing on their missions, Minnesota charities are shifting millions in spending". Pioneer Press. Retrieved 24 March 2017. 
  7. ^ "The Future of Foundation Philanthropy: The CEO Perspective". The Center for Effective Philanthropy. Retrieved 24 March 2017. 
  8. ^ "Impact Investees". The McKnight Foundation. Retrieved 24 March 2017. 

External links[edit]