MANKATO — It's been a banner year for the Mankato Area Foundation, which not only opened a new nonprofit center, but granted nearly $400,000 toward local projects and programming. 

Executive Director Nancy Zallek said the Foundation has grown from $5 million to $12 million during the past 18 months, more than doubling in size. In addition, MAF has raised $1.2 million of $1.3 million needed to purchase and renovate the newly opened nonprofit center, Shared Spaces. 

(Additional funds will be used to renovate the building's kitchen and breakroom as well as purchase additional technology.)

Donor advised funds — funds administered by the foundation on behalf of an organization, family or individual — account for much of the overall growth. MAF also now administers Consolidated Communications' $4 million fund, awarding nearly $150,000 a year on the company's behalf. 

Zallek said the foundation has been able to absorb the additional funds because it has focused so much attention on establishing itself as a viable option for local donors. 

"About five years ago we took a real stand as an organization to put the system in place," she said. 

Prior to that, the foundation had followed more of a community chest model, where it raised money for large community projects and almost immediately spent it all. 

That modus operandi failed pretty famously when the foundation tried to raise money for Mankato's Civic Center, failed to meet its goal and had to give back the money collected from donors. 

More successful projects included William's Nature Center and the Red Jacket Trail. 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, MAF reshaped itself into more of a traditional foundation, which invests its funds and then uses the assets to make grants. 

This leaves the principal fund untouched so it can continue to make money, a more sustainable model overall. 

It took about three years for the foundation to get the new system in place, Zallek said. 

"And then we had a couple generous donors step up with the initial funds and things just took off from there." 

She said it helps that the community of Mankato is an incredibly generous one, filled with people who want to give back. 

She's hoping to use the foundation's assets even more efficiently now that she is in Shared Spaces among several other area nonprofits and Greater Mankato United Way. 

“I get to work with these incredible people, then I get to turn around and help nonprofits that are doing work in the same areas," she said, calling it a win-win for everybody involved. 

Efforts remain focused on growing the foundation's endowment, she said, mostly because, "the larger we grow, the more we can give back." 

For more information about the Mankato Area Foundation and its work in the community, visit: www.mankatoareafoundation.com 

Follow @MFPJessicaBies on Twitter. 

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Jessica here, doing some coffee-fueled reporting for the Mankato Free Press. My beat? Education, colleges, LEARNING. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments and story ideas.

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