If you’ve ever wondered whether your charitable donations are actually making an impact, you are certainly not alone. According to a report by Thrivent Financial, one in eight Americans believe they “can’t give enough to make a difference.” Other polls found that one in three lack faith that charities spend donated money wisely, and more than 60 percent of people worldwide say they don’t believe that charities can accomplish their mission.
The positive news is that many charities are able to create real results in the communities they serve, and by engaging with charities you can help them achieve those results. In addition to making donations, there are often non-monetary ways that you can contribute to charities that focus on causes you care about. This includes everything from participating in volunteer opportunities to helping raise awareness about charities and their missions by sharing, liking and interacting with them on their social media sites, to supporting charities by writing to your local representative or signing a letter advocating for change on a large scale or which requires government support.
You may also find yourself in the fortunate position of being able to contribute monetarily but still wishing to have a larger involvement in a charitable organization as a whole. Becoming a member of charity’s board of directors is a way to get involved that may allow you to utilize specific skills that could help an organization stay or become more viable. Such was the case for Brian Taylor, founding partner and chief executive officer of Pine River Capital Management (“Pine River”), who currently serves on the board of directors for the Minneapolis-based nonprofit the Northside Achievement Zone (“NAZ”).
Taylor’s roots run deep in the metropolitan Minneapolis area. He has worked in the area for over 30 years, and Pine River Capital, a global relative value alternative asset management firm, has been headquartered in the city for nearly two decades. Taylor has strengthened his deep roots by giving back to the community, and to NAZ in particular. Pine River Capital has been a benefactor of NAZ for a number of years, and Taylor has been a member of its board of directors since May of 2015. This involvement embodies Taylor’s commitment to supporting charities that serve the communities where Pine River’s offices are located. Taylor has singled out NAZ for his personal involvement due to his belief in the critical importance of its mission to end generational poverty and build a culture of achievement in North Minneapolis.
NAZ began as the PEACE Foundation in 2003, a grassroots movement across race, class and geography united toward the common goal of reducing violence in North Minneapolis. Five years later, in 2008, members of the North Minneapolis community organized to create solutions for the deeper issues they faced, working to develop an achievement-focused model that was inspired in part by the results of the Harlem Children’s Zone. Rather than working on temporary fixes for larger issues, or focusing on just one piece of the puzzle, the NAZ collaborative mission is to end generational poverty and build a culture of achievement in North Minneapolis so all of its children can realize their unlimited potential. NAZ works collaboratively with over 25 organizations and schools to improve educational outcomes and to ensure all its scholars graduate from high school college-ready.
NAZ’s commitments to focusing on success for the children and families of North Minneapolis, to advancing racial equity for all, to creating a trusting village, and to transforming its community using data and learning are critical for many reasons, including the fact that Minnesota has one of the nation’s worst disparities in educational outcomes, and this achievement gap is most acute on Minneapolis’s Northside. According to NAZ, only 29 percent of children entering kindergarten who live in North Minneapolis are ready to learn, and just 68 percent of African American youth graduate on time from Minneapolis Public Schools. Additionally, although a small area geographically, the Northside accounts for the majority of the city’s crime. Finally, economic disparities mean that 73 percent of NAZ families earn less than $30,000 a year.
Per a 2021 article posted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, these racial educational disparities continue over a lifetime, leading to persistent unequal opportunities and significant income gulfs. However, there are a range of interventions which can disrupt these patterns, and this disruption and subsequent closing of the achievement gap is the outcome sought by NAZ.
NAZ seeks to achieve their goals through massive collaboration efforts with parents, community organizations and schools. They employ a wide array of methods and programs while operating as one integrated program in order to provide families with an unbroken ecosystem of best-practice support. NAZ works with partner schools in the Northside and greater Minneapolis to create reform at the leadership level and improve the overall educational experience, and after school and summer programs help students jump ahead in reading and math proficiency.
The organization also holds NAZ Family Academy, a series of classes focusing on empowering parents with the skills and tools they inherently possess to strengthen the stability of their family and support the academic success of their children. NAZ also provides over 100 scholarships on a yearly basis to its youngest scholars, enabling them to attend high-quality early childhood centers.
The comprehensive efforts of NAZ extend well beyond schooling. NAZ’s Community Wellness team works with educators and community professionals across the Northside to implement a trauma-informed student engagement framework to ensure school cultures address the repeated trauma experienced by Northside students. The organization also helps its families with housing stabilization, health and wellness opportunities, and college solutions as part of its overall approach to closing the achievement gap.
NAZ’s results prove that with long-term commitment, its students can and will succeed. For instance, scholars with longer participation in NAZ academic strategies have higher rates of proficiency. Children with access to high-quality early learning through NAZ Partner sites show high percentages of Kindergarten-readiness.
Programs like those employed by NAZ would not be possible without the continued support of donors like Pine River Capital, who believe in contributing to the success of their communities. For individuals looking to make a difference, one of the best ways in which you can provide aid is through developing a deeper understanding of the issues those you support are working to address. By learning about the statistics and figures and reading the success stories charities have achieved, you can find charities that you are able to wholeheartedly support, knowing that your money is being put to its best use.