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Thriving Communities Initiative

Princeton-Comm.gifPrinceton Mayor Paul Whitcomb (left) chats with Minnesota Design Team volunteers Christina Wagner, David Patten and Bruce Koprucki at the K-Bob Cafe.

For more than 30 years, the Initiative Foundation has empowered local people to engage in their communities—to give of their time, talent and resources to make their hometowns vibrant and resilient.

The Initiative Foundation invites communities across the 14-county region to apply for the newest version of its Thriving Communities Initiative (TCI), a redesigned program to engage new and emerging leaders in leadership development, asset-based community development and local philanthropy.


Phase l: Designed to support up to five communities, Phase I focuses on attracting, training and retaining a mix of existing, new and emerging community leaders.

Phase ll: Up to three communities from Phase l will be selected to participate in additional programming. The goal is to engage a wider audience to create community and economic development opportunities—all of which can support the establishment of a community fund that may be eligible for a $20,000 Initiative Foundation challenge match.


The Foundation’s Thriving Communities Initiative program focuses on communities that have a household median income below 80 percent of the state average, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Review a list of qualifying communities to check if your hometown is eligible.


The Thriving Communities Initiative program is funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI). Funds from RCDI help to cover Phase I costs. Additional funds for Phase II participation are raised locally, with assistance from the Initiative Foundation. Other program sponsors include Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power and Wells Fargo Foundation.

Phase I: Building the Capacity of Emerging Leaders

Emerging Leaders alumnus James Ruiz of Long Prairie, Minn., is investing in his community by serving on the City Council and volunteering with the local fire department. 

Phase l of the Thriving Communities Initiative offers cohort-based training for up to five communities. Each community will assemble five to 10 existing leaders who are interested in strengthening their hometown leadership network. This three-month effort builds the capacity of these established leaders to host strategic conversations that expand their leadership base by recruiting and engaging new and emerging leaders from across the community.

Program Outcomes

Central Minnesota’s population of people ages 65 and older is expected to grow by 49.5 percent over the next decade. During that same time, the number of working-age adults will increase by just 2 percent. Phase I of the TCI program addresses this pending shift and helps your local team gain an enhanced capacity to attract, train and retain effective and engaged community leaders.

  • Retain: Engage effective, collaborative leaders and assess local needs and opportunities.
  • Attract: Create a greater sense of community and welcoming atmosphere for new leaders.
  • Train: Support leaders with resources to fortify their new roles and individual strengths.


Phase I brings together today's forward-thinking leaders interested in participating in specialized training to support and mentor new and emerging leaders.

Phase I Overview

March-May: Communities are invited to apply for the Thriving Communities Initiative
June: Up to five communities are selected to participate in Phase l of the program
Three Months (8-12 hours): Leadership development training begins for existing leaders
Community Session: Workshop for new and emerging leaders 

Phase II: Developing Local Assets

TNelson_SShurts.gifSteve Shurts (left), CEO of East Central Energy and a member of the Initiative Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and Isanti County Assistant Attorney Tim Nelson have helped to elevate the community vision in Braham.

Communities that address local challenges are more likely to attract and retain strong leaders who are vested in making their hometowns more vibrant and resilient. By focusing on community assets, the Thriving Communities Initiative encourages local leaders to see beyond common problems and collectively envision larger possibilities.

Phase II begins the process of engaging traditionally underrepresented populations to identify key community assets. These assets are then leveraged by civic leaders to expand economic opportunities to attract residents, business owners and visitors.

Throughout the training process, local leaders are supported by Initiative Foundation staff and explore ways to support community-based solutions. Phase II participants also are eligible for three months of continued technical assistance and referrals based on locally identified priorities.

Program Outcomes

  • Engagement: A cross-section of residents—including traditionally underrepresented populations—is united in the community conversation.
  • Strategies: Local leaders develop new skills to meet community challenges with locally supported strategies.
  • Sustainability: Participating communities will be offered a customized consultation with our Community Philanthropy Specialist to identify strategies to build their capacity to effectively grow and manage local investments. 


Up to three communities from Phase I are selected to participate. Selection is based on a community's readiness and willingness to delve more deeply into asset-based community and economic development. 

Phase II Overview (Tentative)

October: Phase l graduates are invited to apply.
December: Up to three communities are selected.
February-March: Phase II training begins. Participants design a strategy to mobilize the community.
MarchInitiative Foundation staff provides technical assistance and referrals to key community partners.  
March-April: Challenge match is offered. Phase III begins with 1-3 communities.

C73U5721_copy.jpgEunice Adjei-Bosompem works to make her community a place where immigrants, refugees and people of color feel welcome.


The Thriving Communities Initiative (TCI) is designed for cities with a population of less than 10,000 and a median household income of 80 percent or less of the state average. Do you live in an eligible community?

Ready, Willing, Able to Engage

The Initiative Foundation believes that working across generations and empowering local leaders is key to enhancing community vibrancy and resilience. Are your current community leaders eager to expand the local network of new and emerging leaders?

Community Benefit

Do you want to take a solutions-based approach to identify opportunities and address community challenges? Do you want to tap the potential of new and emerging leaders? Do you want to cultivate local philanthropy to help sustain your community initiatives?


Are you able to assemble a team of five to 10 existing leaders to engage in TCI? Phase I represents a three-month commitment. Communities whose teams complete Phase I are eligible to apply for participation in Phase ll of the program.

Ready. Set. Apply.

Below are three primary questions you will be asked on your TCI application. Please spend some time carefully considering and crafting your responses to these questions before beginning the application process. 

  1. Identify what would make your community a strong candidate for the program. What are the areas in which you have the greatest need for effective leadership such as civic, business, nonprofit and community volunteers?
  2. What are the top three preliminary outcomes your community would like to accomplish as a program participant?
  3. What are the for-profit, civic and/or nonprofit organizations that can be listed in support of this application?

To learn more about how your community can participate in the Foundation’s two-phased Thriving Communities Initiative, redesigned in 2017 to engage emerging leaders, contact Community Development Specialist Michelle Kiley at mkiley(at)ifound.org or by calling (320) 632-9255.


Michelle Kiley

Michelle Kiley
Community Development
Program Manager
(320) 631-2048

Don Hickman

 Don Hickman
Vice President for Community
 Workforce Development
(320) 631-2043