This time of year, we all take time to reflect on the things for which we are thankful. As we count our own blessings, many of us are also inspired to give and share with others. Here at Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), we are thankful to our many donors -and it is through their generosity that we are able to give back to the communities we serve.

In mid-November, our foundation and thousands of other nonprofits across Minnesota participated in Give to the Max Day - a special day for Minnesotans to come together to raise millions of dollars for nonprofits in a 24-hour timeframe. By engaging as many donors as possible to give to their favorite Minnesota charities and schools in one day, Give to the Max Day showcases Minnesota's unparalleled generosity.

Four of the 23 community foundations, which are affiliated with SMIF, challenged each other to raise the most money for their foundation on Give to the Max Day. Friendly rivals, Spring Valley Area Community Foundation and Preston Community Foundation, had a rematch of last year's challenge, and Rushford Community Foundation and Harmony Area Community Foundation began a new challenge this year. Miken Sports of Caledonia once again generously donated baseball bats and bat bags to the winning communities.

Altogether, these four community foundations raised a total of $36,834 on Give to the Max Day! It was an impressive day of fundraising for all who participated, and we were excited to watch the leaderboard as communities rallied around their local foundations. The winners of the two challenges are Preston with a total of $10,135 and Harmony with a total of $13,379. Ultimately, however, all four communities are winners, as they significantly increased their financial resources to support their respective communities.

At SMIF, we are also focused on year-end thanks and giving, allowing us to continue to support 20 southern Minnesota counties. For every $1 we raise locally, we invest an average of $11 back into our communities. These dollars go into early childhood programs that help children get ready for kindergarten. They also help support entrepreneurs start or expand their businesses. These two focus areas are important in any vibrant community and we know our investments in these areas provide a great return.

This past year we invested $1.8 million on our early childhood programming through the grants and other donation resources we provide. We also invested $1.2 million on our entrepreneurial efforts through grants, loans and technical assistance.

As this year is wrapping up and you spend time reflecting on what you are thankful for, we hope you'll consider a year-end gift to a worthwhile organization. We know SMIF is only one of many organizations working to improve the economic prosperity and community vitality of our region. There are obviously many other excellent options for your philanthropic dollars. Whether by supporting SMIF or other worthy groups, it is our hope that you choose to get involved locally and support efforts that positively impact your community now and into the future.  

Tim Penny is president/CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. If you would like to learn more about how your dollars support SMIF's work locally, please feel free to contact him at timp@smifoundation.org, or visit the website at www.smifoundation.org and click on Donate.