The Big Picture

Pioneering private foundations have used Program-Related Investments (PRIs) as a tool for achieving charitable impact since they were first defined in 1969. Yet the catalytic potential of PRIs is just beginning to be fully recognized by mainstream philanthropy, and we find ourselves at the dawn of an exciting era with regard to the creative application of PRIs to many different social and environmental problems.

PRIs are a special type of investment that private foundations make for the primary purpose of advancing their charitable missions and not for a significant purpose of making money. Because of their charitable intent and below-market financial expectations (Endnote 1), PRIs count toward a private foundation’s annual 5% charitable distribution requirement in the year they are made, just like grants. However, unlike with grants, private foundations can use the dollars from successful PRIs over and over again for charitable impact.

PRIs are also incredibly versatile. As long as a PRI is (1) made primarily to advance a private foundation’s exempt purpose, (2) structured with concessionary financial terms so that no significant purpose of the PRI is the production of income or appreciation of property, and (3) not designed to influence legislation or political campaigns, then practically anything is possible. PRIs can be structured as any financial instrument and made to any type of recipient, in any industry, at any phase of development, and in any geographic location.

As interest in PRIs has increased in Minnesota, so too has the need for reliable data on the historical use of PRIs in the state. Recognizing this need, Venn Foundation took the lead in conducting this research project on behalf of our local ecosystem. Our goal was and is simply to provide Minnesota’s philanthropic and impact investing communities with high-quality baseline statistics on how PRIs have been used in the past, right at a time when many are discussing how best to utilize them in the future.

In order to get the most complete and accurate information possible, our team decided to follow an unprecedented and rigorous methodology, one which involved individually reviewing every Minnesota private foundation’s Form 990-PF available in GuideStar (over 20,000 forms) in order to create a comprehensive dataset of all PRIs made from 1998 to 2016. This report serves as the formal presentation of our methodology and findings. With it in hand, you now officially have your fingers on Minnesota’s PRI pulse.


Minnesota PRI Activity in Context

* All dollar values presented in this section are adjusted for inflation to 2016 values.
(Endnote 2)

PRI Trends

The following three charts show Minnesota’s PRI trends over the research period.* While the number of private foundations using PRIs each year increased slightly over the period, the total number of PRIs and the amount of money invested through PRIs each year have remained relatively flat. Each year, on average, 11 Minnesota private foundations invested $8.7 million in 29 PRIs.

* 2016 data has been removed from these specific graphs and calculations because it is incomplete and could distort the conclusions drawn.


Number of MN Private Foundations
Making at Least One PRI Per Fiscal Year



Total Number of PRIs Made
by MN Private Foundations
Per Fiscal Year



Total PRI Dollars Invested
by MN Private Foundations
Per Fiscal Year

Most PRI activity was conducted by a small group of Minnesota private foundations.

  • The top eight private foundations with regard to the number of PRIs comprised 20% of the foundations in the dataset but made 79% of the PRIs.
  • The top eight private foundations with regard to PRI dollars invested comprised 20% of the foundations in the dataset but invested 74% of the dollars.
  • Winds of Peace Foundation made the most PRIs over the period, with 196.
  • Otto Bremer Trust invested the most money in PRIs over the period, with nearly $47 million.
  • Over half (54%) of the private foundations in our dataset made three or fewer PRIs during the period.
  • Nine private foundations (~25% of the foundations in the dataset) made just one PRI over the period.
  • Each year, on average, only 1% of the state’s private foundations engaged in any PRI activity.

PRIs comprise a tiny fraction of all private foundation charitable distributions in Minnesota and of overall charitable giving in the state.

  • In fiscal year 2014, the total charitable distribution by Minnesota private foundations totaled over $1.3 billion.
  • Out of every $1,000 charitably distributed by Minnesota private foundations in fiscal year 2014, only $3 went to PRIs (0.3%) compared to $904 in grants (90.4%), $85 for administrative expenses (8.5%), and $8 for acquisition of direct charitable assets (0.8%).
  • Over the entire period, for every $1,000 granted by Minnesota private foundations and corporate grantmakers, $7 was invested in a PRI.
  • Over the entire period, PRIs accounted for just 0.1% of the $110 billion in total charitable giving by all sources in Minnesota.


Private foundations in Greater Minnesota were under-represented in the dataset yet conducted a disproportionate share of PRI activity.

  • Only 13% of the private foundations in the dataset were located in Greater Minnesota, compared to 23% of the state’s overall private foundation population.
  • Even though they comprise only 23% of the state’s overall private foundation population and hold only 8% of all private foundation assets in the state, private foundations in Greater Minnesota made 47% of all PRIs and invested 19% of the total PRI dollars.


The top PRI issue areas were economic development, human services, and education.

  • Economic development accounted for 50% of the PRIs made and 32% of the PRI dollars invested.
  • Human services accounted for 19% of the PRIs made and 28% of the PRI dollars invested.
  • Education accounted for 17% of PRIs made and 20% of the PRI dollars invested.


Minnesota private foundations made PRIs to all types of recipients, led by nonprofits.

  • Nonprofits received 52% of PRIs made and 77% of PRI dollars invested.
  • Businesses received 28% of PRIs made and 9% of PRI dollars invested.
  • Individuals received 16% of PRIs made and 7% of PRI dollars invested.


As powerful as these statistics are, they are just the beginning. We invite you to explore all of our research findings on the historical use of PRIs by Minnesota private foundations in the full report that follows.


Photo by George Hiles on Unsplash