Program Motivation and Description

Rural Minnesota is enjoying a relatively new phenomena, the “Brain Gain”, a trend of population increases in ages 30-49 into rural areas across Minnesota. This trend, highlighted in the 2012 report by Benjamin Winchester, Continuing the Trend: The Brain Gain of the Newcomers A GENERATIONAL ANALYSIS OF RURAL MINNESOTA MIGRATION, 1990-2010, is bringing a resurgence to rural Minnesota as many of these newcomers are highly educated with families, which ultimately impacts the community in a positive way.  The report states “The leaders found that the top reasons cited for migration to rural Minnesota include: 1) a desire for a simpler life, 2) safety and security, 3) affordable housing, 4) outdoor recreation, and 5) for those with children, locating a quality school. Surprisingly, jobs were not found in the top 10 reasons. In short, the decision to move was based on concerns about quality of life.” This report lends credibility to the position taken by NMF in 2003—that talent has become the main driver of regional economic development and that Quality of Place is the essential ingredient in attracting and retaining a talented workforce. This “Brain Gain” provides northwest Minnesota with an opportunity to boost a trend already moving in a positive direction.


The Communities Thrive Program is a “deep dive” in a small number of communities to help them capitalize on the current “Brain Gain” trend in the ways that best fit their unique community, ultimately building on the strengths and diversity within our region.  This program uses place making and planning approaches to support community vitality. Initially we will work with one (1) to two (2) targeted communities to help identify the communities’ needs and provide a mix of tools and resources, including flexible lending and grant products, to help the communities meet those needs. Whether it is downtown revitalization, an industrial park with tenants, a new senior living facility, a community wellness center, or improved parks and recreation (as examples), we help with capital needs to make the community’s vision a reality. Better lives are built because of our investments into our region’s communities. We know each community is unique—tourism might provide rich cultural experiences in one place, while other communities rely on business and industry—and the Communities Thrive program is designed to be flexible to capitalize on your community’s unique assets.

Scope of Work

We are able to provide the following tools and resources as part of the Communities Thrive Program. We expect to work with a community for up to two (2) to three (3) years, as this work takes time and persistence to see it to full impact. Over that time period, we anticipate that we will invest up to $500,000 in a mix of staff time, grants, loans, and philanthropic services. As we begin working with a community we will jointly develop milestones and goals, and will outline expectations for progress, to warrant continued investment from NMF.


Convening – NMF staff and contractors can provide planning and facilitation assistance to address challenges and opportunities facing your community.  This could range from survey design and implementation, strategic visioning, and community engagement that will push initiatives forward.  We will work alongside our regional partners to increase community capacity to address complex quality of life issues.  Our goal is to ensure all voices are heard, that communities are welcoming and accessible to all.  The program will also work to support leadership development for community members to sustain local efforts.


Grant Funding – NMF will offer grant funding of up to $50,000 per year for two years ($100,000 total per community) for selected communities.  Grant funding will help communities address priorities and goals identified by the community.  Funding eligibility is flexible and may support portions of capital projects, on-going operating, expansion, start-up, and planning activities.  Eligible organizations receiving grants must be 501(c)3 nonprofit or public organization, or as sanctioned by a tribal government as a nonprofit agency.  Final grant decisions will be based on information received during the application process (i.e. letter of interest, site visit, informational interviews, community conversations, NMF action plan proposal).  A full list of eligibility may be found on NMF’s frequently asked questions page for the Communities Thrive program.


Regional Lending and Investment – NMF has low interest loans available to boost private development for community initiatives.  Loan capital is flexible based on community goals.  NMF staff may also assist local revolving loan fund committees as needed.


Philanthropy – Stewardship and sustainability often hinge on continued local support.  Giving and donations from the community at-large should be part of your community’s long-term sustainability effort.  NMF staff have expertise and will support local fundraising that align with the Communities Thrive program award.  This includes assistance developing strategies to engage the community in supporting the priorities and goals identified through the planning and engagement process.

How to Apply

Competitive Process

The Communities Thrive Program will accept Letters of Interest from any and all communities within our 12 county region. Please see list below for information that must be included in the Letter of Interest. The selection of the Communities Thrive communities will be based on site visits that will be conducted this winter, most likely between November 26, 2018 – December 19, 2018. All communities that submit Letters of Interest that comply with the listed requirements will have a site visit scheduled.


Letter of Interest – Required Information

  • Define the community as it makes sense to the community. This does not need to be restricted to city limits or be a single community if a collaboration with a nearby community makes the most sense.  Community may also be defined by a group of people, but will be considered within the context of a local geography.
  • Must serve any community within the 12-county region of Northwest Minnesota (Beltrami, Lake of the Woods, Roseau, Marshall, Polk, Mahnomen, Clearwater, Hubbard, Norman, Pennington, Red Lake, Kittson) and tribal communities of Red Lake and White Earth.
  • Must describe the issue or opportunity facing the community, and how additional resources might be invested to improve quality of life.
  • Must include a mini-SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) assessment with respect to the “Brain Gain” and quality of life as described above (2-3 bullets under each).
  • Letter must include the names of individuals and organizations involved in submitting the letter. Be sure to include a minimum of four (4) signatures from different individuals and/or organizations representing the community.
  • Must list a single point-of-contact for all future correspondence with NMF, particularly scheduling the site visit.



  • September 4, 2018—NMF launches Communities Thrive program
  • October 10, 2018 – 5:00 pm deadline to submit Letter of Interest
  • By November 1, 2018 – Site Visits scheduled
  • By November 26, 2018—Communities provide pre-site visit information
  • November 26, 2018 – December 19, 2018—Site Visits conducted
  • January 2019 – NMF announces communities selected
  • February 2019 – Pre-launch meetings in communities selected
  • March 2019—Communities Thrive effort launched in communities selected



Please submit your Letter of Interest by email to Nate Dorr, Senior Program Officer at

Deadline is 5:00 pm, October 10, 2018.


Nate Dorr, Senior Program Officer

Northwest Minnesota Foundation

201  3rd Street NW

Bemidji, MN  56601


Frequently Asked Questions

The Communities Thrive Program is intended to serve a focused geography.  Non-geographic focused communities (e.g. specific populations of people, LGBTQ, refugees, mental health sufferers, abuse survivors) may be considered a layer of a certain geography as an issue area.  The strongest proposals will show a coherent community identity as defined by community members.  If working across geographic areas, the proposal must show a collaborative effort with a shared focus and commitment to carry out the project.  Geographic-based communities may be defined as a city, school district, a workforce commuter pattern, or neighboring communities with a common barrier, and a shared interesting in improving conditions for community members.

Letters of interest must be submitted according to the timeline in the Communities Thrive project description.  Once letters are received, projects will be assessed based on the community’s readiness to engage in collaborative work.  A site visit will be more important in ranking the community proposal.  This approach will give community stewards a chance to explain the issues they are looking to improve and how they plan to implement strategies.  Further expectations of the site visit will be released by the end of September prior to site visits being scheduled.  A strong application will have cross-sector partnerships, a readiness to engage in planning and implementation, and a commitment to long-term processes.

Grant funding will not be contingent on matching funds.  Matching funds may be considered as part of an overall funding package to ensure long term sustainability of the proposed project.

Grants can only be made to public agencies (schools, counties, cities, tribes, and others) or 501c3 nonprofit organizations.  Grants may fund new or existing programs, projects, studies, planning, collaborative work, capital projects, training, and similar work.  Grants cannot fund political activities, religious propagation, discriminatory practices, past operating debts, or similar activities.  Grants are meant to make a long term impact in the community.  Proposals that identify a public need and the public benefit of grant funding will be considered as prioritized by the community, versus grants to benefit only a single organization.  Collaborative efforts are encouraged.

Rates and terms will vary depending on the type of loan and project.  Loan funding is open to private businesses, nonprofit organizations, and public agencies.

We believe community projects are most successful when community members are invested using their time, unique talents, and treasure.  Commitment of time in the planning and implementation of the local project relies on community members showing up over the long term.  Each person involved might contribute their talents to advance efforts that improve quality of life options in their community.  Fundraising and donations are a vital part of taking ownership of the long term functionality of a program or maintenance of a capital project.  NMF staff are skilled in and will assist with establishing funds, tax-deductible donations, establishing policies around local grant making and fundraising, and guide community members in reaching fundraising goals.  Projects will not be rated on a community’s ability to raise the most amount of funds or pledges, but rather their willingness to engage with the whole community in holding events and fundraising to further their overall mission.  Local funds raised will be under the control of a local fund advisory committee to ensure all funds are directed to specific projects identified within the Communities Thrive Program.

No.  We recognize some larger communities might have the ability to hire grant writers and gain a competitive advantage because of their size.  Our approach is to consider the unique needs of each community, the fit with the program, and hearing folks in the community speaking with one voice.  Some of the work might be developing local capacity (skills, knowledge, time, tools, funding, etc.) that might benefit smaller communities.  Also consider that we are looking for multiple partners to engage in the program, so consider reaching out to neighboring, regional, or statewide organizations if needed.  The goal is to level the playing field and ensure fair access to the program regardless of size.

The team reviewing letters and conducting site visits represents a cross section of Northwest Minnesota Foundation staff.  Because the program relies on leveraging grants, loans, fundraising, and community leadership, we are engaging staff with specialties in these areas.

It’s at least a long term trend if not an age old phenomenon.  The idea of providing amenities and showcasing community assets to attract workers and raise families is not new.  Skilled workers know have the ability to choose where they want to live, send their kids to school, open a business, and spend their resources.  We want communities to showcase the many reasons why people should live, work, and play in northwest Minnesota.

The next grant round will be contingent on available funding, but is expected to reopen to applications in 2020.  It is possible a selected community may achieve its intended targets ahead of schedule and could exit the program before the two to three year time frame.  Then new communities could be brought in through another competitive process.