From Our Chair

Our Shared History

In our family, the words of John Wesley were shared often,

“Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

This advice has taken root in each generation of the Carlson family. Each generation has interpreted the call to action in the context of its moment in history.

Much has been written about my grandfather, our founder, Curtis L. Carlson. He was an entrepreneur and a very successful businessman, yet his most enduring legacy lives in the commitment to giving back that he engendered in us, the three generations of his family who now lead the Carlson Family Foundation.

My grandfather not only envisioned this but committed his personal time and energy to creating teachable moments for his descendants. Most of his lessons were private, but some of the teachings were in a public forum; for example, when he chose to speak to his descendants from the stage at the 1997 naming of the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota.

“We know here in these halls, the school will be giving the priceless gift of education and opportunity to many generations to come. This legacy will be carried forward, I trust, by my descendants, as our ongoing gift to the whole community. A family’s identity as well as its strength can be nourished by giving to these institutions that do so much to improve the quality of life for all.”

Curt worked tirelessly to push us to think about how we could be a part of the solution. How we would contribute to a more vibrant, inclusive community.

To formalize this commitment, he established the Carlson Family Foundation in 1959 with the explicit hope that the family through the generations would work together “to do all the good we can, for as long as ever we can.”

Our World Today

In this moment in history, a moment that has shone a light on inequities, injustice and racism, a moment that finds truths exposed and finally acknowledged by most. We see a moment that demands urgency to identify and remove structural and systemic barriers so racial justice and shared prosperity can be realized.

We know that we must recommit to “do all the good we can,” with an awareness that it requires us to acknowledge, atone and then act in new ways that address far more than the symptoms of injustice.

Our Process

In March of 2019, three generations of the Carlson family joined together to establish a renewed vision, mission and theory of change that would lead to impact in the context and realities of the now. The goal was to bring together our learnings from our work with our partners, our grantees and our communities, with research and insights to identify solutions that would find sustained change and shared prosperity.

At this strategic retreat, which was prior to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police and to the spotlighting of inequities by the pandemic, we began the discussion of how to hold ourselves accountable to ensuring our solutions acknowledged and addressed structural and systemic racism.

In the wake of the pandemic and the community awakening to racial injustice, we submit that we have far more to learn, and we again commit to continuous learning and active participation with our partners, our grantees and the institutions we support to move rapidly toward racial justice.

Our Vision and Mission

Our new vision: Uplifting youth through leadership at the intersection of love and insight.

Our new mission statement: Working together with the community to create opportunity, hope, and a sense of belonging for every young person.

While we aspire to play our part, we know this will take forces far beyond our resources and will only be realized when systemic barriers are eliminated and racial justice is achieved.

We are ready to listen, learn and act with you, our partners and community, to ensure every child has the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Wendy Nelson
Chair, Carlson Family Foundation

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