MicroGrants gives $1000 grants 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 2015, 36% of our grants funded education
  • After the grant, 99% of interviewed education related recipients have either completed or are on track to complete their indicated academic program.
  • 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 2015, 25% of our grants went to small business development
  • After the grant, 90% of interviewed business owners are making a profit or are on track to do
    so in the next year.
  • 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 2015, 31% of grants went to transportation
  • After their grant, 93% of interviewed transportation-related recipients currently had reliable transportation.
  • 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


See Full List of Partner Agencies with Descriptions >


MicroGrants’ work is informed by certain guiding principals:

Wealth accumulation, not debt accumulation, is the way out of poverty.
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, 85% 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. If you are interested in starting a chapter in your area please email info@microgrants.net.

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 85% 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 4000 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

Don Samuels

Don Samuels – Chief Executive Officer

Don immigrated from Jamaica in 1970 to study Industrial Design in New York. He spent 30 years in the toy industry as an R&D executive, with major manufacturers and owner of a design/invention studio. He graduated, with a Master of Divinity degree, from Luther Seminary in 2001. Don evolved from community activist, in his Jordan Neighborhood, to become a Minneapolis council member for three terms until his run for mayor in 2013.
Don co-founded 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). NAZ recently 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 7 consecutive years of double-digit crime reduction. Don now serves on the board of Minneapolis Public schools, Twin Cities Rise, Alafia Place, Rock ‘n Read, The Youth Coordinating Board and is a past board member of Meet Minneapolis, The Hub and Teach for America. Don is married to Sondra Hollinger Samuels, CEO of the NAZ. They live in the Jordan Neighborhood of North Minneapolis with their two young daughters. Their adult daughter and son live in New York City.

Mike McCloskey – Chief Operations Officer

Mike joined MicroGrants in the fall of 2017. His principal responsibility at MicroGrants is organizational administration. Mike has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from St. John’s University, an MBA from the University of St. Thomas, and a master’s degree in servant leadership from Viterbo University. He spent seventeen years as an emergency room nurse and manager, both locally and overseas. More recently, Mike worked as a nonprofit administrator and as an adjunct professor of servant leadership.

Kris Barstow Final

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.

 Luis Siojo – Grant Writer

Luis has returned since helping founder Joe Selvaggio during MicroGrants’ first year of operation in 2006. Luis brings more than twenty-five years of nonprofit grants and resource development experience by way of the University of Minnesota Foundation, Project for Pride in Living, and several other community-based organizations. He is excited to be part of MicroGrants’ revitalized strategic vision as it forges into its next decade of service to communities of color.

 Linnea Peterson – Communications Manager

Linnea is serving as MicroGrants’ Communications Manager through Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC). LVC is a one-year domestic service corps that places participants in full-time roles at nonprofits throughout the Midwest and East Coast. In her role at MicroGrants, Linnea will be writing the newsletter, updating MicroGrants’ social media, creating the annual report, and editing the annual evaluation.

Meet the Board

Meet The Board


Omar Akbar

Omar Akbar is an investment banker at Greene Holcomb Fisher. His role includes structuring. negotiating and advising clients on buy-and–sell-side M&A transactions ranging in size from $5 million to $1 billion. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Iowa College of Law and LLM International Economic Law from New York University School of Law. Omar also serves on the board of Intermedia Arts. He is an avid Ping-pong player. He and his wife Ilse have two young children.

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.


Chuck Garrity

Chuck has worked in the investment and insurance fields for over five decades. “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 — is attractive to my wife, Arlene and I. A recent article says that since 50,000 BC, there have been 108 billion people inhabiting the earth (some billion today). Living in the 21st century, in the USA; how favored are we? Probably in the top 1/10 of 1%.”

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.


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.  Personally, he has an open, sympathetic heart, managed by an appropriate intelligence and discipline: and the organizations he has founded reflect the same considerations.  I hope I can be useful on the MicroGrants board, as I am proud to serve on it.

Neda Kellogg

Neda is the Founding Executive Director of Project DIVA, a coaching and mentoring program for 6-12th grade girls in North Minneapolis. Neda has been working to empower young people to make informed academic, social, emotional, career, financial and health/wellness decisions since 2008. Her dedication and commitment to this mission have caused her to develop a powerful, ongoing program through Project DIVA that trains girls to realize their highest aspirations. Over the years Neda’s career has included being a licensed Youth Career Coach and Teen Outreach facilitator. Neda is also on the board of the Prodeo Academy. In 2018 Neda was awarded a Bush Fellowship grant for her outstanding work with Black female teens.

Mike Kroening

Mike is a Sr. VP and Portfolio Manager at Travelers.  He has extensive experience in the financial world.  He Certified Financial Analyst and has a B.A. in accounting and economics from the University of St. Thomas and an M.B.A in finance from the University of Minnesota.


Allen Lenzmeier (Treasurer)

Allen currently serves on one public board (Best Buy Co.) and on 3 other non-profit boards, MN Orchestra, Pacer Advisory board, and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities. He has been involved with the local Boys & Girls Club for 20 years and now serves on their foundation board. He has also served as chairman of the board and as a national trustee for 8 years. Allen graduated from Mankato State University in 1965 with a B.S. in Accounting and is a C.P.A. (not active). Over a period of 20 years, he worked for Price Waterhouse, National Car Rental, Tom Thumb Food Markets and Perkins Restaurants. In August1984, he started working at Best Buy and retired in 2007 as President/COO. Allen is married with 3 children and 3 grandchildren.

Sherman Patterson

Sherman 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 yeas 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.


Tom Rock (Secretary)

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.”


Joe Selvaggio (Board Chair)

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.”


Sam Selvaggio

Sam is an independent advertising sales representative, one of the original MicroGrants board member and the son of Joe Selvaggio, our founder. Sam comments, “I am excited to be part of a non-profit that has a direct and immediate effect on lifting ‘people of potential’ out of poverty.” Sam has also worked with other Minneapolis-based non-profits such as Bolder Options and SOO Visual Arts Center (SOOVac).

Lynne Thompson

Lynne Thompson

Lynne Thompson is an award-winning writer and communications professional at health care organizations in Minneapolis – including Park Nicollet Clinic and Fairview Health Services.  I like taking a more active role in MicroGrants’ development and growth. It is informed governance that best supports small nonprofits. I trust that my experience in organizational planning could benefit MicroGrants.”   Lynne also serves on the board of directors for Interest for Others Foundation. She is a past board chair for the Minnesota AIDS Project and board member for Cabrini House.

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 (NC, 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.




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 2 phone calls, 4 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


Community Advisory Council

Community Advisory Council

The Community Council was started in 2012. They are the force behind the Grantees of the Year selections and award events each year. We send out a special THANK YOU to these committed volunteers who meet to discuss ideas and strategies for furthering MicroGrants’ success.

Community Council

The Community Council members are: (2nd row L to R) Kristine Barstow, Ann Garrity, Susan Schneck, Joanna Lees, Pam Kaufman and Mindy Lee.

(front row L to R) Tricia Haynes, Masami Kawazato, Lynne Thompson and Barbara Grossman.