How to Be a Loyal Local Giver
Advice from American foundations on staying close to home
You may not have heard of Moorhead, Minnesota, but its tagline is “Your Hometown.” You can have morning coffee with the mayor, and “take a break from the political elections” to vote for the water tower as “tank of the year.” Home to about 42,000 people, it is the largest city in northwest Minnesota. Its oldest cemetery, started in 1875, is aptly called the “Prairie Home Cemetery.” In 2015 the website NerdWallet named it “#1 Best Small City in America.”
Fargo, North Dakota, its better known neighbor, lies just across the Red River. Not many people live close to the banks on the Moorhead side—the river is known to flood, and it takes the hard labor of sandbagging, and a little bit of luck, to avoid catastrophe. When the city offered voluntary buyouts to neighbors who wanted to move out of the flood plain, all but one citizen took the deal. That one citizen was Lloyd Paulson, 85 at the time, who told CNN “I want to go feet-first out of here.” With the help of his family and friends he assembled 30,000 sandbags one season to protect his home. Dubbed the “last man standing” in his neighborhood, CNN asked him how he felt about the moniker. I “didn’t do this for publicity,” he said. “I just want to enjoy my life, and I can do that here.”
Paulson wasn’t just known for the location of his house. He was a leading philanthropist, who along with his wife Beverly gave millions to churches and nonprofits in Minnesota and the Dakotas. Millions he and Beverly acquired through years of frugality and his employment as an executive at Scheels, a regional sporting goods retailer. In addition to giving money, Paulson volunteered his time and raised money from others—he reached almost 48 years as a member of the Kiwanis Club, and could be found at Moorhead’s Dorothy Day Food Pantry, or in the Lloyd and Beverly Paulson Family Chapel at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. When he passed away in 2018, a memorial service was held in his original hometown of Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, population 1,000, where Paulson had donated money to build a community center and a town pool, and a new kitchen and handicapped entrance for his old church.
While Paulson went above and beyond in savings and generosity, his affinity for local causes is the norm. According to data from Foundation Center and Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, about two thirds of private foundation grants in any given locale go toward regional beneficiaries. There’s a marked preference for gifts where a donor can see with his or her own eyes the effects, good and bad.
But local giving comes with its own set of challenges. To get a sense of what it takes to be a loyal, local funder, I spoke with friends and members of The Philanthropy Roundtable, asking for advice. And here’s a taste of what I heard.
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