An anonymous benefactor has given Minnesota Public Radio $56 million — the largest donation in the media organization’s 55-year history.
The historic gift will go toward YourClassical, MPR’s classical music network, and digital tools, helping boost staffing, equipment and training.
“We’re blown away by it,” MPR President Duchesne Drew said Wednesday. “That is … a testament to this person’s love of classical music and of MPR and of the impact they can have through us. It’s really going to allow us to bring classical music to a lot more people.”
The donation will go into a separate endowment that will exist in perpetuity, allowing MPR to withdraw 5% of the money each year, or about $2.8 million, Drew said.
The money will help bolster digital tools and skills to expand classical music to new audience members and be used to increase staffing, especially people of color, who have been vastly underrepresented in the classical music field.
“Having a gift of this size lets us get better faster on both of those fronts,” said Drew, a former managing editor of operations at the Star Tribune.
According to MPR, the largest classical public media organization in the country, nearly 2.75 million people “engage with YourClassical” every week. Nationally syndicated programs include “Pipedreams,” “SymphonyCast,” and “Composers Datebook.”
Jean Taylor, CEO of American Public Media Group, MPR’s parent company, said the donation was an “extraordinary gift” that will have a “transformative impact.”
In May, the organization announced it was shutting down “APM Reports,” the investigative journalism program, saying the move will help MPR dedicate more money and resources toward local reporting.
MPR has a $117 million annual budget and more than 700 employees, according to its latest public tax filings. The nonprofit drums up nearly $80 million in contributions and grants a year. Drew said about 75% of the money the nonprofit raises comes from the public — with donors sending in everything from $5 a month to more sizable gifts.
“Most people aren’t giving tens of millions of dollars,” he said.
In 2015, MPR and APM received a $10 million donation, also given anonymously. At the time, it was considered one of the largest donations any public radio station had received.
Drew said he couldn’t disclose details about the donor.
“When someone offers you money and says they don’t want their name on it, you don’t press them,” he said. “That’s just the nature of this particular donor, [they] didn’t want the limelight, didn’t want the spotlight, didn’t need credit. They just wanted to make this investment in MPR.”
A rare donation
Donations of this size, especially from an unnamed contributor, are rare for Minnesota nonprofits.
In 2019, an anonymous donor gave $1 million to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. Each year, an anonymous donor dubbed “St. Grand” drops $1,000 into the red kettles the Twin Cities Salvation Army uses to collect spare change and cash; the secretive donor has gifted more than $152,500 over 11 years.
And while she hasn’t remained anonymous, billionaire MacKenzie Scott has funneled more than $78 million to Minnesota nonprofits in the past two years, often surprising them and not immediately revealing who was behind the donations.
“For an organization on the receiving end, it can be mind-blowing and the biggest gift of affirmation,” said Michelle Edgerton, president of the Minnesota chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and founder of the Edgerton Group, a fundraising consulting firm.
Wealthy donors are increasingly retooling how they give money, said Edgerton, who is also chief development officer at United States of Care, an affordable health care policy organization that was surprised by an $8 million donation from Scott. Instead of spreading out contributions among many groups, she said, the donors now are giving higher amounts to fewer organizations.
Unlike Scott, who sent money to nonprofits without them even applying for it, MPR likely worked hard to cultivate the relationship with its unnamed donor, Edgerton said.
The noteworthy donations show that, despite the troubled economy and high inflation, donors — especially affluent ones — are still giving, she said. A recent study from a wealth-management firm found that a third of wealthy donors plan to change their philanthropy in the next two years, with most giving more money.
“Donors are looking for organizations that are doing the work in the community that they desire to see done,” Edgerton said. “What this tells us is people are still supporting our community.”