At the start of March 2020, two nonprofit organizations had a combined $500,000 to help 117 North Minneapolis businesses struggling to stay open during the beginning of the pandemic. Then in May, after George Floyd’s murder, in just over two days, their pool of funds grew to over $1 million and led to a change in their mission.
For Felicia Perry and Sarah Clyne, leaders of two North Minneapolis economic development organizations, 2020 can be divided into two chapters. The first chapter is marked by coming together to meet the challenges of supporting neighborhood small businesses that were crushed by state stay-at-home orders but did not qualify for government aid. The second started after the death of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed, leading to an incredible fundraising effort.
Perry and Clyne saw the change on May 27, two days after Floyd’s death, when they met on West Broadway Avenue, both helping clean up businesses destroyed during protests.
“I was out there the next day cleaning up, very much upset about the condition of my neighborhood, the lack of response from the Fourth Precinct and feeling like our city had let us down in so many ways,” said Perry, the executive director of the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition.
“People started asking me personally, ‘How can we donate? How can we contribute?’ And so, I was like, ‘Well, how can I help?’ And I said (to Clyne), ‘Give me a link, tell me,’” she recalled.
Clyne, the former executive director of Northside Funders Group, reached out to a member of her team to create a link to a donation page. It later blew up on social media after gaining the attention of Lizzo, who retweeted the link. Within 24 hours they had raised over $1 million to help their community.
Perry and Clyne agreed they needed more help and to get more organizations involved. One of those organizations was UnitedHealth Group.
A friend of Clyne’s who works for the company reached out. “She’s like, ‘I sense that North Minneapolis isn’t getting the kind of attention that it needs and deserves, so, help me understand that so I can go back and advocate for more money,’” Clyne said.
In the end, they received an additional $1 million from UnitedHealth Group, as well as pro bono support for both organizations, something Clyne said she highly valued because it proved they were committed to the cause. However, they also had to turn down funding from groups that she believed were there simply to fund the moment and had unreasonable strings attached that were not aligned with their values, according to Perry.
Clyne said she would ask organizations, “Are you really interested in this work that we’re doing around supporting and sustaining these businesses so that we can create a vibrant, thriving neighborhood?”
Since last summer, WBC has hired more people to help support and advocate for businesses.
Clyne and Perry hope something that was spurred on in the moment will continue to be more than just a moment.