For discussion

March 2013

In Support of North Dakota Communities

A supporter of North Dakota Compass, The Otto Bremer Foundation is committed to communities that are homes and neighbors to Bremer banks in Minnesota, North Dakota, and western Wisconsin. Since its founding in 1944, the Foundation has provided more than $410 million to help build healthy, vibrant communities.

Compass talked with Randi Roth, Executive Director of the Bremer Foundation since 2008, about community involvement and the Foundation's role in promoting it.

Q: In Robert Putnam’s book, "Bowling Alone," he argues that Americans are increasingly less interested in their communities. Do you see that in the communities Bremer Foundation serves?
We actually see a relatively high level of community involvement in Bremer Bank communities. Perhaps in part it is a function of the Foundation's funding over time of key community institutions, a function of these particular communities having the attributes that contribute to supporting a successful banking business, and in part because these communities tend to have a culture that supports a high level of volunteerism (practiced by Bremer Bank employees and others). That said, more involvement would be better, and the communities are facing tremendous challenges these days.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges communities face?
The biggest challenges are economic, civic, and social. In terms of economic challenges, there are many people in the communities who are unable to obtain good jobs. This creates tremendous stresses for families and communities. In terms of civic and social challenges, the growing elderly population needs care; the very young need access to high quality early childhood education; youth need strong, effective community support for healthy development; and the schools and communities overall need to learn how to effectively integrate people who have come to the communities from all over the world, and who speak many different languages. For example, the schools in one of our communities include children who speak 40 different languages. It is very difficult for the school system to rise to the challenge of providing a quality education to all in this situation.

Q: Your organization is unique in that the Foundation and the Bremer Bank employees own its community banks. What opportunities does that provide?
The Foundation's 92 percent ownership of the Bremer Banks means that we are never a stranger in our communities. That is one of the greatest strengths in the ownership model from the Foundation's perspective. The Foundation's learning is based on many contributions—we examine data, we meet with grant applicants, we talk with many community leaders and community members—but the banks give us a starting point to orient ourselves to the communities.
Another opportunity is that our trustees, who serve as both Foundation trustees and as bank directors, have a high level of understanding of financial matters. This helps them to assess the financial aspects of proposed work.

During the recession the Foundation continued its historical support for efforts to address immediate needs during a time of crisis while also supporting opportunities to achieve long-term economic stability. This two-pronged approach is rooted in Otto Bremer’s belief that people could survive and flourish if they had help at critical times

Q: Many of North Dakota’s private foundations are becoming more targeted in their giving, and shortening their grant cycles. What is the philosophy at Bremer Foundation? 

The Otto Bremer Foundation is open to grant applications on a very wide range of topics. Our web site contains our vision for communities, called our Mission and Meaning statement (ottobremer.org/about/mission-meaning). Except for a few topic areas in which we generally do not fund (ottobremer.org/grantmaking/grantmaking-overview), we are open to any proposal from any qualifying entity in a Bremer Bank community that asks for funding to move the community towards that vision. Because the amount requested in proposals often exceeds our budget for giving, we try to elevate the work that will most powerfully move the communities forward. We generally make one-year grants, but when it is important to accomplish the work outlined in the proposal, we will consider two- and even three-year grants.

Q: You've introduced a new logo and tagline that symbolize the “energy, movement and vibrancy” of the Otto Bremer Foundation. What are some examples of ways that the Foundation is living those attributes? 

The energy, movement and vibrancy of our new logo convey our vision for Bremer communities and our active, involved and optimistic role in helping communities create a positive future. The way we best live those qualities is by seeking an understanding of what life is really like in our communities, and by staying responsive to that reality. We make site visits throughout our three-state region in response to most of our proposals, which gives us the opportunity to touch base in person and learn what is happening on the ground. We conduct convenings in our communities on topics that seem to be pressing region-wide so we can learn more. And in some cases, we work with grantees and other community leaders through initiative work to support their design of solutions to tough problems and their ability to take advantage of important opportunities.

More discussion

Luke Schaefer and Alissa Thiele: Coming Together to Help Students
April 2019

Jen Walla: Prairie Roots Community Fund
February 2019

Lindsey Leker: Creating Community with the use of Technology and Youth Leadership
January 2019

Megan Laudenschlager: Strengthen ND - Supporting and Accelerating Community Development in Rural North Dakota
December 2018

Jodi Bruns: NDSU Extension Takes Creative Approach to Enhancing Communities and Improving Leaders
September 2018

Kevin Iverson: The 2020 Census
August 2018

Josh Askvig: Building Communities for All
June 2018

Jessica Nelson: CHARISM -- Building a Stronger, Better Neighborhood Since 1994
April 2018

Katherine Roth: The Jamestown Regional Entrepreneur Center – A Newcomer to the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of South Central North Dakota
March 2018

5 Years of North Dakota Compass!
February 2018

Alexandre Cyusa: Folkways -- Building a vibrant community one memorable experience at a time
December 2017

AIPHRC: Engaging and Partnering with Tribes: American Indian Public Health Resource Center Improving Public Health
November 2017

Josh Hoper: Through scientific eyes: Building homes and hope with Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity
October 2017

Diane Solinger: Jeremiah Program ignites hopeful journey for single mothers, creates better future for the next generation
September 2017

Kelly Sassi & Denise Lajimodiere: Turtle Mountain Teen Art and Writing Workshop: Enacting Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy in a Summer Program for Native American Youth
August 2017

Kristi Huber: Do you know the Return on Investment on your charitable giving?
May 2017

Jesseca White: Disrupting the Revolving Door: A look at alternative justice in Fargo
January 2017

Leola Daul: Heart-n-Soul Community Cafe: A Place Where All Are Welcome to Enjoy a Local, Healthy, and Delicious Meal no Matter their Ability to Pay
October 2016

Cass Clay Food Systems Advisory Commission: A Multijurisdictional Food Policy Council
August 2016

5 Ways to Join the Compass Community
May 2016

Inform, Improve, Inspire: North Dakota's First Ever Demographics Conference
March 2016

Donene Feist: Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs in North Dakota
January 2016

ND Head Start: Vibrant Economy Leads to Workforce Shortages - Head Start Programs Statewide Are Feeling the Impact
December 2015

Lynette Schaff: Bullying- Just a Schoolyard Problem? Think Again!
November 2015

Jim Deal: Changes to Come
October 2015

Janis Cheney: AARP- Discover Your Possibilities
September 2015

John Trombley: Competition is Tough; Why Make it Tougher?
August 2015

Nick Ybarra: Keeping the Trail
July 2015

Megan Laudenschlager: Engaging Millennials
June 2015

Kim Bushaw: Brain Development
May 2015

2015 Legislative District Profiles
April 2015

ND Compass Points
March 2015

Heidi Demars: Growing a Food Cooperative from the Ground Up
February 2015

Helen Danielson: National Mentoring Month
January 2015

Sharz Miar: Giving the Gift of Hope for the Holidays
December 2014

Cheryl Ann Kary (Hunkuotawin): Talking Indian: A L/N/Dakota Model of Oratory
November 2014

North Dakota Legislative District Profiles
October 2014

Edwin Erickson Jr.: Soybeans- Growing an Important Commodity for North Dakota
September 2014

Jennifer Braun: A Look at Early Childhood Education in Western North Dakota
August 2014

Jordyn Wallenborn: Ticks Bite: Protect Yourself Against Lyme Disease
July 2014

Lorraine Shepherd-Davis: Filling a Need in the Community
June 2014

Howard Barlow: Helping Build a Better Community
May 2014

Denise Hellekson: Using Mindfulness to Calm Your Busy Mind
April 2014

Melissa Sobolik: End hunger through community partnerships
March 2014

Jacob Sowers: Places and their story: More than just a spot on the map?
February 2014

Neil Scharpe: "Protecting North Dakota's Quality of Life"
January 2014

Donald Warne: "American Indian Health Disparities in North Dakota"
November 2013

Kay Schwarzwalter: "Community building through community gardens"
October 2013

Jasper Schneider: "Rural Development in North Dakota"
August 2013

Dean Bangsund: "Economic contribution of the petroleum industry in North Dakota"
July 2013

Jane Strommen: "Addressing the education and support needs of older North Dakotans and their family members"
June 2013

Randi Roth: "In Support of North Dakota Communities"
March 2013

Richard Rathge: "Vision of North Dakota Compass"
February 2013

Paul Mattessich: "What's the real poverty rate?"
January 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2019. All rights reserved.