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Most foundations give out grants to pay for specific projects, but the Women's Foundation of Minnesota is doing something different: awarding $10,000 each to 40 female nonprofit leaders not to work.

The Minneapolis-based foundation calls it "investing in rest," using grants to fund self-care in hopes of stemming the rising burnout rate in Minnesota's nonprofit sector, especially among female leaders of color.

The "Rest Up" grants, announced Monday, amount to a total of $400,000 for the 40 recipients, all women of color, to invest in their health and well-being — such as taking a sabbatical, or even getting a gym membership.

"Their rest and care is something that we all need to be paying attention to," CEO Gloria Perez said. "If we can invest in leaders' collective care, their well-being and respite, that will have a ripple effect to their team members and it will have an impact on the work they're doing in community."

Eight leaders who are women of color helped select the 40 winners from a pool of applicants who were invited to apply because their organizations have received funding from the Women's Foundation in the past.

While there aren't plans for the Rest Up grants to be awarded annually, Perez said she hopes it won't be a "one-and-done investment, but rather the beginning of a culture shift."

"Ultimately, [it could] create a wave of change where we're all acknowledging that we should not be living our lives with the mindset of 'Do more with less' and 'Work harder, faster,' " she said. "Those concepts ... have frankly done us a disservice as women and it has done us a disservice as communities."

The financial toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women, according to employment statistics, and women are often the primary caregivers to family members.

Minnesota's nonprofit sector, which is largely staffed by women, is also grappling with widespread staffing shortages in part because of growing burnout, spurring some workers to leave for jobs with better pay and hours, or to retire early.

In a survey released last month by the National Council of Nonprofits, half the Minnesota respondents said they're struggling to recruit or retain employees because of stress and burnout. More than 60% blamed salary competition or cited budget constraints.

"I think the burnout that the sector is facing is a byproduct of the fact that we have not been investing in the wellness of leaders," Perez said. "That is not sustainable."

New focus on well-being

Last year, the Women's Foundation added a new focus on holistic well-being after hearing from female leaders about the challenges they were facing. The 40 Rest Up grants, awarded to coincide with the foundation's 40th anniversary next month, make up part of about $3 million the foundation gives annually toward gender and racial justice.

Ethelind Kaba, executive director of the Ann Bancroft Foundation in St. Paul, is using her $10,000 award for leadership development, and to pay for training and a monthly wellness stipend to her five employees. Small nonprofits like hers don't have the "luxury," she said, to pay for leadership development. She hopes the wellness stipend prevents turnover among her colleagues.

"You need to be able to have a break and you need to feel rested, and if we're not, we can't come up with those innovative solutions our community needs," Kaba said. "A more restful mind for me means creativity and innovation in the work. To have a grant that is specifically designated for that is very helpful and doesn't make me feel guilty in prioritizing that work."

As the Ann Bancroft Foundation's first Black executive director, Kaba said leadership coaching will help her deal with microaggressions, reduce stress and feel supported as she juggles her role with the demands of caring for her children and ill mother.

"For me, rest actually meant that coaching to be able to navigate that," she said. "It makes life easier in the long run."

Balancing self-care, work

At the start of COVID and after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Perez gave her employees a paid week off for "radical self-care" to collectively decompress. The organization offers "Summer Fridays" like many nonprofits and businesses, letting employees work a half-day on Fridays to enjoy Minnesota's short summer.

In the fall, the foundation switches to "Focus Friday" to discourage meetings and let people decompress.

"It doesn't feel like you have time in your day to think or reflect," Perez said. "[We're] trying to build into the culture of the organization a little more sanity."

The Rest Up grants announcement has prompted some people to pause, Perez said, but only because self-care grants aren't common.

Last year, the first grants awarded by the Black Collective Foundation, Minnesota's first Black-led community foundation, included $10,000 to leaders for personal or career development. Nexus Community Partners in St. Paul is launching a sabbatical program next year for Black and Indigenous leaders and other leaders of color, and providing resources to combat burnout, such as access to mental health practitioners.

"We would love to ask philanthropy to invest more in rest," said LaCora Bradford Kesti, the Women's Foundation's vice president of community impact. "[We're] really trying to be intentional about how we listen ... to our communities when they say, 'We need this.' "

Winners of the Rest Up awards:

Jalilia Abdul-Brown, Change Starts with Community, Minneapolis

Tracine Asberry, St. Paul Youth Services

Ruby Azurdia-Lee, Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio, St. Paul

Gwendolyn Barber, Resources, Justice and Management, Minneapolis

Suzanne Burks, Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, Minneapolis

Montha Chum, MN8, St. Paul

Sarah Curtiss, Men as Peacemakers, Duluth

Kenosha Davenport, Sexual Violence Center, Minneapolis

Kelly Drummer, MIGIZI, Minneapolis

Rev. Alika Galloway, Liberty Northside Healing Space, Minneapolis

Hanna Getachew-Kreusser, Face to Face Health and Counseling Service, St. Paul

Bethlehem Gronneberg, uCodeGirl, Fargo-Moorhead

Signe Harriday, The Fields at Rootsprings, Annandale

Zede Harut, Seeds Worth Sowing, Minneapolis

Linda Her, Asian American Organizing Project, St. Paul

Mirdalys Herrera Tweeton, Centro Tyrone Guzman, Minneapolis

Cheniqua Johnson, In Sisterhood, We Brunch, St. Paul

Ethelind Kaba, Ann Bancroft Foundation, St. Paul

Neda Kellogg, Project DIVA International, Minneapolis

Deyona Kirk, Divine Konnections, Duluth

Jewelly Lee, Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together, St. Paul

Irma Marquez Trapero, LatinoLEAD, St. Paul

Louise Matson, Division of Indian Work, Minneapolis

Nicole Matthews, Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition, St. Paul

Lulete Mola, Black Collective Foundation MN, Minneapolis

Melissa Nambangi, Minnesota African Women's Association, Brooklyn Center

Ana Perez de Perez, Discapacitados abriendose caminos, South St. Paul

Gabrieline Reece, Women Who Influence, Minneapolis

Ruth Richardson, Planned Parenthood North Central States, St. Paul

Sheri Riemers, Ain Dah Yung Center, St. Paul

Hadija Steen Mills, Healthcare Reparations Cooperative, Minneapolis

Kaysone Syonesa and Jessica Eckerstorfer, The SEAD Project, Minneapolis

May yer Thao, Hmong American Partnership, St. Paul

Patricia Tototzintle, Esperanza United, St. Paul

Artika R. Tyner, Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, St. Paul

Shayla Walker, Our Justice, Minneapolis

Claudia Waring, Asian Women United of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Cynthia Wilson, NAACP Minneapolis Branch 0450

Pamela Zeller, Women's Initiative for Self Empowerment, St. Paul

Carmen Zuniga, Violence Intervention Project, Thief River Falls