About MicroGrants

Want to learn about MicroGrants? You’ve come to the right place! MicroGrants gives grants of around $1000 for low-income people of potential to invest in their lives. The grants are designed to help people increase their income either through small business development or getting and retaining stable employment. We believe in eliminating poverty through work!

Investments are usually made in three areas: education, small business development, and transportation.


  • Education grants are used for short term training programs such as a Certified Nursing Assistant training course, or to pay for expenses not covered by traditional financial aid
  • In 2017, 21% of our grants funded education
  • After the grant, 93% of interviewed education-related recipients were on track to achieve their goal(s)
  • Read our education success stories

Small Business

  • These are used to buy supplies, make infrastructure improvements or invest in advertising. They can also be used to help with the costs of starting a small business
  • In 2017, 36% of our grants went to small business development
  • After the grant, 93% of interviewed business-related recipients were on track to achieve their goal(s)
  • Read our small business development success stories


  • Transportation grants are used to repair a vehicle, purchase a new car, or get a drivers license
  • In 2017, 37% of grants went to transportation
  • After their grant, 93% of interviewed transportation-related recipients were on track to achieve their goal(s)
  • Read our transportation success stories

  1. Generous supporters provide donations. (Donate Now!)
  2. Our Partner Agencies recommend their best-qualified clients as possible grant recipients.  All of our potential grant recipients are referred to us by these Partner Agencies.
  3. We review grant applications and fund qualifying requests.
  4. Our Partner Agencies mentor the recipients and oversee use of the grants.
  5. The Partner Agencies follow up with the recipients and report the results to MicroGrants.

Here are some of our Partner Agencies

African Development Center of Minnesota logoSummit Academy OIC logoWomenVenture logoProject for Pride in Living logo

See Full List of Partner Agencies with Descriptions >



MicroGrants’ work is informed by certain guiding principles:

Wealth accumulation, not debt accumulation, is the way out of poverty.Photo of a smiling grantee with a laptop
The inspiration for MicroGrants came from the micro-lending programs of 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. But since many low-income people in the US are already burdened by debt, MicroGrants gives grants rather than loans.

Keeping overhead low means more grants! MicroGrants works with existing community assets to avoid duplication of services and to allow the maximum possible percentage of donations to go towards grants. On average, 80% of spending went to the giving of grants.

Collaborating with Partner Agencies is key. The advantage of working with reputable nonprofits is that they already have trusting relationships with the recipients. That relationship is essential to picking the right persons, mentoring them, holding them accountable and evaluating their success. It also allows MicroGrants to serve many different populations with different needs in a culturally competent way.

Giving in your own community empowers your neighbors! MicroGrants gives most grants in the Twin Cities, but does have a small chapter in Naples, FL. MicroGrants believes it is key for local money to stay local, so the Florida chapter is completely funded by restricted donations that come from Florida, and the Twin Cities chapter is funded with Twin Cities money. This model can be replicated across America because every area has people with generous donors and local “people of potential” who could use the investment as a springboard.

A Brief History

“Somewhere in the mid- to late-twentieth century a handful of social entrepreneurs in widely separate parts of the world made a discovery that led to a radical conclusion about poor people. It attracted scant applause and even less visibility at the time. Their names included Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, Pancho and Maria Otero of Bolivia and Joe Selvaggio of Minnesota. Poor people with ambition, they said, poor people willing to dig in for a second chance, can be trusted. It didn’t matter whether they were poor in Tanzania or India, South America or in south Minneapolis. They might live in the bleakest poverty in Africa or without wheels or credit in America.They are still worth a chance. If they make it, we all benefit.” – Jim Klobuchar, from the preface in our book, MicroGrants: It’s Working.

Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, MicroGrants was founded in 2006 by Joe Selvaggio, also founder of Project for Pride in Living. But rather than micro-LOANS through banks in Bangladesh, MicroGrants give cash GRANTS through existing Partner Agencies who are already working with low-income “people of potential” here in the Twin Cities.** MicroGrants are not given for needs or emergencies, but for opportunities to get work, keep work or create work, moving individuals closer to their financial independence. MicroGrants has a small staff and gives on average 80% of its donations directly to motivated people in our communities. How can MicroGrants operate with such a low overhead? Because these like-minded Partner Agencies are already working to boost people out of poverty, and they do the selecting, coaching and mentoring of the grantees. MicroGrants simply does the fund raising and the giving of grants. Since 2006, MicroGrants has boosted more than 5000 individuals closer to their self-sufficiency.

**There are currently two other MicroGrants Chapters (Chicago & SW Florida) started by volunteers who raise their own funds and distribute grants through local partner agencies. It’s a unique and effective model that can boost people to work in any community.

Meet the Team

Meet the Team

Photo of Don Samuels

Don Samuels – Chief Executive Officer & President

Don immigrated from Jamaica in 1970 to study Industrial Design in NYC. He spent 30 years in the toy industry as an R&D executive with major manufacturers and as owner of a design/invention studio. He graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary in 2001. Don evolved from a community leader in his Jordan Neighborhood to become a Minneapolis City Council member for three terms until his run for mayor in 2013.

Don cofounded the Hope Collaborative to showcase school leaders from across the country who had closed the achievement gap. Don also cofounded the PEACE Foundation, which became the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ). In 2011, NAZ won a $28.5 million federal grant to educate low-income children in North Minneapolis. Among his many City Council achievements, Don initiated the Ban the Box legislation to help ex-offenders gain employment. This eventually became statewide law. His leadership as Public Safety Chair led to seven consecutive years of double-digit crime reduction. Don now serves on the boards of The Center for Action and Contemplation, Luther Seminary, and Twin Cities Rise. He is a past board member of Minneapolis Public schools, The Youth Coordination Board, Meet Minneapolis, Teach for America, Alafia Place, and Rock ’n’ Read. Don is married to Sondra Hollinger Samuels, CEO of the NAZ. They have an adult son and have raised 3 daughters in the Jordan Neighborhood of North Minneapolis for 23 years.

Allison Agre –Communications Manager

Allison joined MicroGrants in the fall of 2019, and manages the communications for both MicroGrants and Lights On.

Allison grew up in Minnesota and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2016. Since college, she has had the opportunity to work for the Minnesota Twins, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minneapolis Public Schools, and, most recently, the Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy. Allison is passionate about social justice and brings that passion and enthusiasm to MicroGrants.

Photo of Kristine Barstow

Kristine Barstow – Internal Operations Manager

Kris is the day-to-day link between MicroGrants and our Partner Agencies. She reviews grant applications, writes grant checks, manages our accounting operations, and interfaces with our external accountants and auditors. Kris’ professional experience is both wide and deep. Her 20 years at AAA Daily Labor gave her a keen sense for the challenges that low-income people face to earn a living wage.

Photo of Sherman Patterson

Sherman Patterson – Lights On! Program Director

Sherman leads the Lights On! program, especially with regards to outreach to police departments. He has a long history of service to our community and this country. He and his wife, Sandy, are familiar faces in North Minneapolis.  Sherman served 21 years in the US Army.  Afterwards he obtained his masters’ degree in Public Safety Administration from Saint Mary’s University here in Minnesota. He served eight years as a Public Safety Policy Liaison to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Sherman founded and has led the Annual Turkey Giveaway for several years, providing meals for thousands of families in North Minneapolis. In 2014, he started his own social outreach program called Lead By Example, to reduce gun violence, by working with a group of young men to become leaders in dismantling the gun culture in their neighborhoods.  He received the 2008 Minneapolis Park & Recreation Boards Martin Luther King Award, and a Bush Fellowship in 2014.

Amy Harsch –  Executive Assistant

Amy Harsch joined MicroGrants as an Executive Assistant in July 2020.

Amy was born and raised in the Twin Cities and has lived in New Brighton since 1987. Having worked for companies such as Pentair, Ecolab, WindLogics, St. Jude Medical and Bolder Options, she has been an Executive Assistant for 20+ years and specializes in nonprofit accounting.  She has been married for 29 years, and has a son and a daughter.   Furthermore, she is a Stage III HER Receptor 2 positive breast cancer survivor (8 years and running).

Meet the Board

Meet The Board

Photo of Abou Amara

Abou Amara

Abou is a public affairs consultant and strategist that served in a variety of capacities in the public policy and lawmaking arena. Most recently, he served as a policy co-chair to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s Transition Team. Prior to that he served as the Public Policy Director for a North Minneapolis and non-profit and as an advisor to the Speaker of the House in the Minnesota House of Representatives. In 2015, was named by Twin Cities Business Magazine as “100 Minnesotans to Know” and listed as a “Next Generation Leader” and “Shaper of the Future” by the publication.

As the child of immigrants from Sierra Leone, Abou also serves as a board member of African Immigrant Services of MN and the West African Collaborative, organizations focused on building civic capacity for the west African immigrant community in the Twin Cities region.

Abou currently holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy (MPP) with a focus on economic policy from the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs and an undergraduate degree in sociology and economics from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire.  He is also pursuing his law degree from the University of St. Thomas.

Photo of Chuck Garrity

Chuck Garrity

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Chuck has worked in the investment and insurance fields for over five decades: Founder of Intelligent Financial Strategies and Garrity Tegeler and Varley Wealth Strategies LLP. Chuck and wife Arlene say: “It is easy to be a fan and follower of Joe Selvaggio, because his ideas are good – and they work. MicroGrants — helping people of potential to move up the ‘stairs of success’ –with a high efficiency of fund use and measurable results.”
Photo of Rob Gottsch

Rob Gottsch

Rob joins the Board with a strong commitment to give back to the community, especially to those who are in need. For Rob, it is an opportunity to “pay it forward” by helping people who can use a little help to get them on their feet and be productive. Rob has had a long career in the business world and believes that being on the Board is an opportunity to utilize the business acumen that his mentors passed down to him for the support of others outside of his everyday world. Rob earned a BS in marketing from Moorhead State University along with completing the New Leader Course at the University of St. Thomas.  Outside of work, Rob enjoys spending time with his family, being outdoors and traveling.

Photo of Barbara Grossman

Barbara Grossman

Barbara brings to the board over 25 years experience directing programs in housing, jobs development, and education, with a particular focus on urban communities. Also a member of MicroGrants’ Women’s Advisory Group she has been especially impressed by the high quality of MicroGrants’ partnerships and the support they provide grantees. This support not only informs MicroGrants’ “people” investments but also contributes to grantees’ success. “For the investors, risks are well-calculated and often rewarded, especially through the knowledge that the grantees have grown, developed, imagined and realized new possibilities of financial independence.”

Photo of Don Hall

Don Hall

Donald Hall, now retired, has worked as a financial analyst and stockbroker most of his life.  In that activity he has had to sort out the genuine and possible from the hopeful and unlikely.  Doing his own investigation he has supported numerous non-profits over the years, including Joe Selvaggio’s initial work as a social advocate, then PPL and then the 1% Club.  Joe’s work has always met the test.  “I hope I can be useful on the MicroGrants board,” he said, “as I am proud to serve on it.”

Photo of Allen Lenzmeier

Allen Lenzmeier (Secretary/Treasurer)

Allen currently serves on four non-profit boards: Minnesota Orchestra, Pacer Advisory Board, Schulze Family Foundation and Boys and Girls Club of the Twin Cities. He has been involved with Boys and Girls Clubs for 28 years, serving as Chair of the Board and also as a National Trustee.  Prior to his retirement in 2007, he was employed for 25 years at Best Buy Company serving at various times as CFO, President, Vice Chairman and Board Member.  Allen is married with three children and five grandchildren.

Photo of Tom Rock

Tom Rock (Board Chair)

General Counsel, CCO and COO at EBF & Associates, LLP. “Not a day goes by when I don’t shake my head at the vast income disparity between rich and poor. So often large, well-funded programs fail to get the money, or aid to the right pocket. The beauty of MicroGrants is that it recognizes the strength of helping one person at a time [and] it builds competence and confidence in the people being served. I also like to back winners, and Joe, you are a proven winner. MicroGrants has a bright future. I am eager to help advance its mission.”

Photo of Joe Selvaggio

Joe Selvaggio (Board Member for Life)

Throughout Joe’s forty-plus-year career Selvaggio has received more honors than we can list here. Some highlights are Founder of Project for Pride in Living-1972, Doctorate of Human Letters, honoris causa (Macalester College)-1991, Minnesotan of the Year (Minneapolis Monthly)-1997, Huffington Post’s Greatest Person of the Day (Huffington Post)-2011 “These $1000 Microgrants” are not ‘transfers of wealth’, but life-changing investments from the ‘haves’ to the ‘have-nots’ of potential. I hope we can educate more ‘haves’ to make this productive investment. I know of no better use for money.”

Photo of Molly Simmons
Molly Simmons

Molly Simmons is business professional born in outstate Minnesota, now living in Minneapolis and the mother of two. Her work experience is in finance, and her most recent job was as a portfolio manager for the Pohlad Companies. Ms. Simmons has held strategic advisory, board, and private investment roles and has served on more than 20 private and public boards across various industries and geographies. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Education degree from Northwestern University and an MBA degree from Harvard Business School.


Photo of Tom Welch

Tom Welch

Tom Welch is principal and owner of Palisade Asset Management, LLC, a registered investment advisory firm. Tom is on the investment committee that reviews and analyzes investment portfolios of clients, many of which are trust accounts for which our firm is the investment manager. Tom was President of BNC National Bank, Minnesota region, head of the Wealth Division for 3 regions (ND, MN and AZ), was a member of the Board of both BNC National Bank and BNC Corp., the publicly held holding company, responsible for all corporate and retail banking.

Adrian Coulter



An Advisor is a MicroGrants volunteer with a special area of expertise, who has committed to give opinions and make suggestions to improve our performance. Advisors commit to about two phone calls, four emails and one face-to-face meeting per year, at their convenience. Advisors allow us to identify them in all our publications.

Mike Ciresi

Burt Cohen

Norm Coleman

Judson Dayton

Joe Errigo

Archie Givens

Jim Graves

Peter Heegaard

Berit Johnson

Steve LeBeau

Charlie Maxwell

Art Rolnick

Chuck Slocum

Dane Smith

Jim Weichert



A list of our past year’s donors can be found within our annual report. All of our annual reports are posted on the Reports & Publications section of this website.


Here are list of our Sponsors