This is an important time of year for Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF). We are wrapping up our annual update visits with local city and county government leaders, requesting their continued financial support of the work we do. In addition, we now kick off our fall solicitation of businesses, banks, and individuals who support the work of the Foundation.

We are proud to receive significant financial support from a variety of people and organizations throughout the region we serve. Many of our over 400 donor partners do so year after year helping SMIF to catalyze our region's early childhood and economic development efforts. Besides our generous annual local donors, The McKnight Foundation continues to be a major supporter. In addition, our own endowment fund (that we have built to more than $30 million, thanks to our many financial partners) provides roughly $1 million per year to augment our programs and services.

SMIF strives to be a resource for all of the communities in our 20-county area. We provide funds to advance both early childhood and economic development efforts. SMIF also provides administrative and investment support to 24 community funds — offering matching dollars for grants and endowment fund opportunities.

The foundation's early childhood efforts are comprised of grants, educational resources (books, computers, equipment), AmeriCorps LEAP personnel assigned to early childhood sites, and collaborative conferences and trainings. The foundation's economic support includes lending programs, technical assistance (including 40 small business mentors through our Service Corps of Retired Executives - SCORE), economic development grants, VISTA members, and community projects.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, we invested $4,485,075 into southern Minnesota. Our early childhood programming received $1.5 million of those allocated resources and $2 million was invested in our economic development programming.

SMIF's work with Becky Finney serves as an inspiring example of the difference we are making in the region. We were able to support Becky Finney's Day Care and her desire to learn more about her child care business. Becky attended a Quality Child Care Program training hosted by SMIF and funded by a Mardag Foundation grant to SMIF, and she subsequently received supporting grants to enhance and update her learning toys. She also received a SMIF Building Blocks Loan to make her outdoor site safer for the children she cares for on a daily basis. With the help of SMIF's resources, she is now better able to impact our youngest generation at a crucial time in their learning. This example-and many more like it-were made possible thanks to the generous support of our donors.

SMIF has other resources that we use to support a variety of businesses. Another example is recent loan client Kevin Mattick who started Blue Earth Valley Trading Company, a honey and maple syrup production business. After consulting with our foundation's lending team members, this entrepreneur received both technical assistance as well as a small business start-up loan.

Both of these stories (and more) are in our newly released annual report. To read more go to Without our donors’ support none of this would be possible. If you would like to donate to Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and contribute to the economic vitality of our part of the state, please go to the website.  

Tim Penny is president/CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. He welcomes your comments and questions. You can reach him at or (507) 455-3215.