Using PIN to track social impact – a Minnesota example

There is no dearth of evidence that Minnesotans are civic-minded. The state’s volunteerism rates are second in the nation, more than 60 percent of Minnesotans donate money to charity, and we lead the country in voter turnout.

While such statistics are great, they don’t capture what it’s like to live in a social-minded state full of folks with a penchant for problem solving and pitching in.

That’s why Minnesota Public Radio and the Public Insight Network are collaborating with the Minnesota Social Impact Center, a new hub for social entrepreneurship, to gather stories about people, businesses, schools, faith communities, and governments striving to create impact. We also want to learn if PIN can be a meaningful way to tie engagement to community impact.

The Minnesota Social Impact Center will feature some of the stories and storytellers at a live event in St. Paul in November. PIN will also share some on our website.

The idea for the collaboration came from PIN source Michael Bischoff, an innovation consultant who helps mission-driven individuals and organizations work together to build sustainable communities. Bischoff thought PIN sources who share their insights and experiences to inform journalists might welcome the chance to share stories of social impact with each other, in effect networking the network.

He was right. So far PIN engagement specialist Melody Ng has received 55 submissions and nearly all sources have given permission to publish their stories. (Read some examples below.)

This isn’t a big surprise to any partner who has relied on PIN to bring citizens together for face-to-face discussions and to unearth diverse perspectives that drive conversation around important topics. What makes this project unique is the potential for community collaboration – organizations sponsoring the live event are circulating the query to their networks, helping to build a “social impact” cohort of sources within PIN – and the follow-up; we’ll be sending a survey to measure the impact of the experience on participants and, with sources’ permission, sharing the results with them and participating organizations, including funders.

We’ll be sure to report back what we learn. Meantime, here is a sampling of the stories we’ve collected so far. Feel free to steal the query concept, and to contact me ( or Melody ( if you have any questions.


Linda Fantin, PIN director

Town thrives on creativity and grit

Here’s what Mayor Jay Nelson told us about revitalizing Hendricks, a small rural town a mile from the South Dakota border that for decades has fought for its survival.

“Statistics would have left us for dead decades ago, but our ragtag group of residents refuses to blame circumstances for what they are. We don’t believe in circumstances. The small towns that survive are ones that create the circumstances they want. Hendricks makes its own circumstances when needed…”

For instance, the town is refurbishing an old theater, last used in the early 1970s. Two cattle ranchers “with a penchant for interior design” are leading the effort, Nelson says. The finished theater will have laser and light shows, first-run movies, live theater performances, and a commercial kitchen for making fudge, candles and other goodies.

The Sheridan Story combats hunger

Volunteers from Dangerous Man Brew packing over 2,500 bags of food to be distributed to kids while they are at school on Friday, Aug. 28, 2014. Photograph by Rob Williams.

Three years ago, a school principal and Northeast Minneapolis pastor, with funding from Colonial Church’s Innové initiative, launched a program to provide Sheridan Elementary students with extra food on Friday afternoons so they’d have enough to eat on the weekends. That was the first chapter in what was dubbed The Sheridan Story.

“Our weekend food program is now a network of churches, synagogues, corporations, small businesses, nonprofits, clubs, etc. who have stepped up to fight child hunger,” writes pastor Rob Williams of Minneapolis.

“Through this grassroots network of partners, The Sheridan Story will operate in 25 schools this fall, reaching approximately 1,600 kids! All because one principal noticed the problem and asked for help.”

Minnesota mom serves up Southern comfort

Food is also central to how one Golden Valley woman is helping others. Rose McGee is giving away sweet potato pies.

Rose McGee presents Brittanie Jones a Sweet Potato Comfort Pie at the site where Michael Brown was slain in Ferguson, Mo.

Rose McGee presents Brittanie Jones a Sweet Potato Comfort Pie at the site where Michael Brown was slain in Ferguson, Mo.

“As a child who grew up in the rural South,” she writes, “I used to walk around in my neighborhood with my grandmother or great-grandmother when they would take food to people who were pain or in need [of] consoling. Generally it was a homemade sweet potato pie. I began selling sweet potato pies several years ago at the Minneapolis Farmers Market and later at Midtown Global Market, but came to realize the passion (for me) was not in selling a product but the joy people got when receiving the pie. So recently, I decided to ‘give’ the pie away to people in need of comfort.

“My first self-proclaimed Sweet Potato Comfort Pie Tour was over the Labor Day Weekend … On the tour, a woman in Rockford, Ill., accepted the Comfort Pie and then sat down, held it and just started rocking back and forth. She said she could feel the power of comfort just by holding it… Another young man I met was shot in the head two years ago at age 16 by another teen. He’s totally paralyzed, cannot talk except with the help of a machine. His parents were so thrilled receiving the Comfort Pie and he actually looked into my eyes and said ‘Thankful.’”

Rose also traveled to Ferguson, Mo., hoping to help the community heal after the racially-charged shooting of teen Michael Brown. There she found Brittany Jones and a few others calling the teen’s name over and over.  “She was shocked that someone was giving her a sweet potato pie and even more shocked when she learned I was from Minnesota.”

Convent makes music available to all

And then there are the Franciscan Sisters in Little Falls who run a music school for the community. The St. Francis Music Center hosts two orchestras, three chorale groups, and seven youth rock bands.

“No one is turned away from lessons at the Music Center,” writes center director Robyn Grey. “We have everyone from infants in our Music and Motion classes, to people in their 90s in our choirs. Music is becoming elitist in our society — only available to those that can afford it — which is even more true in rural Minnesota. The Music Center may not seem so impressive to the metro area, but we are a community of 8,000 people.”

Are you or someone you know solving problems in your community?

Please tell us about it here.

Then read more stories from Minnesotans about Minnesotans making a difference where they live.  Thanks for your stories — and for making the world a better place!