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The Changing Face of Philanthropy in Minnesota:
a radio series on giving in the New Economy.
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   P R O F I L E S   I N   G I V I N G

Emmett D. Carson
President and CEO, The Minneapolis Foundation

Emmett Carson

Emmett Carson's introduction to philanthropy came when the snow fell on his boyhood neighborhood in Chicago and his father gave him his marching orders: Shovel out the elderly folks next door first. There were similar orders in the summer when grass needed cutting.

Later Carson was the beneficiary of others' altruism when he received a no-strings-attached $1,000 scholarship that helped him meet miscellaneous expenses during his first year at Morehouse College, which helped him launched his successful career as a public policy scholar and foundation leader. It was that gift which inspires his own gift each year of four $1,000 scholarships to graduates of his old inner-city Chicago high school, Emil G. Hirsch. Two scholarships go to the outstanding students in math and civics, the other two go to the most improved students in those same subjects.

"They were two subjects that I enjoyed most in high school, and the scholarships are named after four teachers who made a difference in my life," he explains. "I wanted to create a dynamic that said we want to recognize people on two different levels: Some are the best and just get better. Others struggle a little bit and work very hard to achieve."

"The way you get people to give is because they are passionate. I don't start talking to them about tax deductions, I talk about 'What do you care about? What's made a difference in your life?'" And when do you start giving? "You start. You don't wait until you get to a certain place in life. You start to do it, and you give whatever you can."

Among the accomplishments in his career, Carson cites his early research disproving the stereotype that African Americans did not have a tradition of giving and volunteering. To the contrary, he demonstrated that they had a strong tradition of giving traceable from African tribes through the Civil Rights Movement. The latter, he says, was not funded by foundation grants. "People had chicken dinners to raise money."

His work also aimed to educate organizations that make their messages and programs appeal to African Americans, who are more influential and affluent than they were in the past. Organizations must understand, he says, that their survival will increasingly depend on attracting these potential donors to their cause.

"The thing that I take the most satisfaction in was the research was the first of its kind on any ethnic group," Carson says. Other research followed on Chinese, Latinos, and other Americans. Eventually, he says, people began to realize that giving is "not just something that rich white people do" but something all communities have done historically.

Under Carson, The Minneapolis Foundation is working to build trust with African Americans and others by sponsoring studies and programs that address the priorities of those communities. As a result, a growing number of people from those communities are setting up charitable funds at the foundation. He is among them with a fund named in honor of his parents.

"Philanthropy is always motivated by personal experience and understanding," he says. Shoveling snow for his childhood neighbors - without compensation - at first did not stir his enthusiasm. "But I learned there was a responsibility I had as a member of the community, that I had youth and energy and they did not."

Next Profile:
Anthony Morley and Ruth Anne Olson

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