Fundraising and Development: Building Capacity to Do More at Dakota Wicohan

Sunktanka Standing Rock 2016

When it comes to initiatives to improve life in Native communities, the investments that are direly needed are often not the shiny, exciting ones that make headlines. Instead what’s needed is the back-end structure, the technical, operational aspects that lay the groundwork for greater things to happen. First Nations Development Institute recognizes this need and provides essential training and technical assistance to tribal organizations throughout Indian Country. As a result, organizations like Dakota Wicohan in Morton, Minnesota, are accomplishing feats that may not be shiny and exciting but are every bit as crucial to their missions.

Investing in the Internal

Eileen O’Keefe, program director for Dakota Wicohan, says that establishing a fundraising and donor management structure was key to her organization’s future, but getting support for such an operational cost has always been a challenge. “Without direct outcomes and a demonstrated impact, it doesn’t necessarily make a good story for funders,” says O’Keefe. “It’s not exciting, external work. First Nations knows that, as small organizations, we need to build that internal capacity.”

Dakota Wicohan is a non-profit cultural resource center focused on the celebration and transmission of Dakota cultural lifeways, art, and language. The organization is a long-term grantee of First Nations and has received seven grants over the last eight years through both the Native Youth and Culture Fund and the Native Arts Initiative. As part of this funding, the organization has received two Supporting Native Arts Grants that provide for training and technical assistance from First Nations during specified grant periods.

The training and technical assistance began by having O’Keefe’s team complete a comprehensive questionnaire regarding operations, capacity, and programmatic infrastructure. “They asked us what we wanted, what we needed, and what was the most important,” she says. “From there they really drill it down to the main items and what you could most benefit from.”

An investment in fundraising is an investment in the organization’s work, such as leading field trips like this one to the Minnesota Historical Society to see a screening of the film Warrior Women.

An investment in fundraising is an investment in the organization’s work, such as leading field trips like this one to the Minnesota Historical Society to see a screening of the film Warrior Women.

For the first funding session, they decided to concentrate on board training and project management. For the next session, they moved their focus to individual donors and fundraising. To help them build this essential framework, First Nations arranged for nonprofit experts at Melvin Consulting PLLC to partner with the leaders of Dakota Wicohan.

One expert was Eileen Egan, who calls on her experience in individual giving to provide technical assistance to nonprofits and tribal nations to help them reach their full potential. On this project, Egan worked with Dakota Wicohan to create a fundraising plan and select a donor database with electronic marketing capacity. “She looked at where we were hitting, and where we could improve,” says O’Keefe. “That meant looking at fundraising broadly, not just at foundations, but how we were connecting with individual donors.”

Egan felt what was needed was a framework or structure.

“For Dakota Wicohan, the answers are right there in the community. They have a talented team and knowledge,” Egan says. “But by working together we could create more intentionality, including an identifying an online marketing tool so they could reach new levels in fundraising, expand their individual donor base of champions, and progress toward their mission. The training and technical assistance provided the resources needed to step back and consider where they want to be in five years and how they can diversify revenue streams to lessen their reliance on a few sources.”

The plan for Dakota Wicohan involved investing in the technology to organize and streamline their development operations and better reach and engage with potential donors. Egan’s team helped acquire and set up donor management software, transition their records, and train Dakota Wicohan on its use.

“We are a small non-profit, so most of our resources were spent running programs. We weren’t actively accessing our funding sources or cultivating our donors,” says O’Keefe. “We used to have a couple lists here, and an Excel spreadsheet there.”

Egan’s team helped them establish processes and identify opportunities, as well as evaluate and elevate the things the organization was already doing for marketing and outreach, such as its website, newsletter, and social media.

Imperfect action versus perfect inaction

Dakota Wicohan has dived into the new fundraising plan and embraced the training, and is now learning about the full power of the software. O’Keefe says that in addition to the technical assistance, they’re gaining lessons in confidence and intentionality.

“A lot of times, we would get overwhelmed or would hold off making a decision because we would be operating in an area, fundraising, that was entirely new to many of us,” she says.

One quote that is embraced by First Nations President and CEO Michael E. Roberts and resonated with O’Keefe is by Harry S. Truman and it really resonated with O’Keefe and her team: “Imperfect action beats perfect inaction every time.”

“I think we’ve drawn a lot of strength from that,” says O’Keefe. “It stops us from getting paralyzed, but to keep moving ahead. We can do this.”

Tapping potential

The training and technical assistance from First Nations is just wrapping up, however, the organization is already seeing results. O’Keefe says they’ve seen a 5% increase in the number of new donors, many coming from California and other states in which Dakota Wicohan had not expected it was having an impact. There has also been an increase in monthly sustainer donations as well as nationwide exposure to the organization.

O’Keefe says her team has been able to implement their overall fundraising efforts in a more concentrated and systematic way, making sure they’re ready for certain fundraising timeframes and events, and being much more deliberate. In addition, the planning has opened the doors for future development goals including planned giving.

“We’re been able to do so more than we thought, and First Nations has been so generous and helpful,” says O’Keefe. “We’re taking baby steps moving forward, but there’s more on the horizon, and with their support, we know we can get there.”

With greater fundraising capacity, Dakota Wicohan can also continue engaging youth in outreach projects, such as this Water Walk and Prayer Ride.

With greater fundraising capacity, Dakota Wicohan can also continue engaging youth in outreach projects, such as this Water Walk and Prayer Ride.

It is true that fundraising strategies and donor management software are not shiny and exciting, and they’re not tied directly to outcomes that are moving the needle in Indian Country. But they are part of the everyday actions that can be perfected so that Native organizations can move the needle themselves. They are key factors in empowering tribal groups like Dakota Wicohan. And they are directly in line with First Nation’s mission to invest in and create innovative institutions that strengthen asset control and support economic development. This is indeed exciting and shiny, and First Nations is proud to be a part of it.

A Personal Essay about Oginiig (Rosehips) and Recipe for Rose Sauce

Rose hips

Rose hips

Our friend Tashia Hart, (Red Lake Anishinaabe) Duluth Culinary ethnobotanist, has shared some of her recipes and stories for your enjoyment. This is the first of her three offerings. 

“Itchy jiid” (pronounced ‘jeed,’ like ‘seed’) was one of the first references to wild edible plants I learned as a kid. Or, at least it was one of the most memorable, as it was always delivered by my father or one of his friends, accompanied by a snicker. We’ll return to that in a minute.

Now ‘jiid’ isn’t exactly a standalone word in the Anishinaabe language, but rather is spoken in terms of ‘his jiid’ or ‘her jiid’ or ‘their jiid.’ So to say ‘itchy jiid,’ is kind of slang usage. I’d never heard anyone outside of Red Lake call oginiig (oh-gin-eeg) this, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized it must be somewhat of a localized term. It was my father who told me this name, ‘itchy jiid,’ and it was my mother who told me the name ‘rosehip.’

Growing up, my dad taught us about the plants around us in the environments of northern Minnesota. My mother is a bookworm who loves to read about medicinal plants from across the globe and put them into practice. For example, she would calm us with celery seed, numb sore teeth with clove buds, and made sure we were eating our veggies. It’s obvious to me now that their appreciation for the plant world was combined and seeded into my own. For this, I am grateful.

The rose is the focus of art, literature, music, festivities, food, medicine, and traditions spanning across continents and millennia.

If you work with rosehips, you will know that you don’t ingest the seeds, for they are covered in irritating hairs. If you happen to do so, let’s just say you can expect an itchy departure. My dad knew this and would instruct us to nibble around the middle where the seeds are if we wanted to eat the fruit. I always thought rosehips were like tiny, waxy, creamy apples, and loved finding them on our outdoor adventures. They were always firmer before the snow, and afterward, they would get mushier.

Crushing the rose hips

Crushing the rose hips

When dried and eaten plain—which is a feat characterized with a special kind of crunchiness—I think oginiig taste like tomatoes, but when you cook dried or fresh rosehips, they smell and, with a little sweetener, taste more like apples. It’s not surprising that ‘ogin,’ the Anishinaabe word for a rosehip, is also our word for a tomato.

According to the USDA, rosehips are an excellent source of vitamins C and A, as well as fiber, and contain manganese, magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and other vitamins and minerals. Some people believe that the rose can help revive a person from emotional numbness, depression, and revitalize a desire to live in the moment. I can attest to this effect.

A few years back, I was in the tail process of reviving myself from exactly such a state—a process that has taken decades to date—and I found myself in the Sioux Chef kitchen in Minneapolis, working with rose petals with my friend, and at the time kitchen manager, Andrea Weber. We gave the petals a bath in chilled water and added honey before putting them in a dehydrator. The smells from this entire process did indeed impress on me a desire to live more in charge of my own life—carpe diem—as they say. Working with the roses over those few days had an effect on me that I can still feel anytime I wish, by just remembering their smell and how beautiful their presence was. Anytime I have worked with roses since it’s been the same. It’s almost as if they are the essence of love itself, which when you’re in need of self-love, can be a powerfully moving and uplifting force. I find much gratitude working with plants, and the rose has a special, integrated role in my plant-memory-repository.

-Rose Sauce-

Rosehips and petals can be wild-harvested, cultivated, and purchased at some local health food or herbal stores.

½ cup rosehips (seeds removed)

¼  – ½ cup maple sugar

1 ½ cups water

Rose water (recipe below)

In a small saucepan, bring water and rosehips to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer until the rosehips begin to soften (about eight minutes). Uncover and simmer five minutes more (turn burner back up to medium heat). Stir. Add ¼ cup maple sugar and stir again. Allow mixture to simmer low, stirring occasionally until the rosehip sauce thickens and it is easy to blend most of the fruit bits fairly smooth. This can take 20-30 minutes. During this time, you can make your Rose Water.

-Rose Water-

½ cup rose petals

1 cup water

Boil water. Remove from heat, stir in rose petals and cover. Let sit at least five minutes. Stir, cover and let sit another five minutes. Petals should be a much lighter color and the water should be a rose color. Strain.

Turn off the heat. Whisk until sauce is as smooth as you can make it. Allow to cool just a little. You can now either blend your sauce in a food processor or strain out the bits through a fine mesh strainer. If you blend it, you will have a little more fiber in your sauce. It’s delicious either way. Whisk in your rose water and another ¼ c of maple sugar, if you want your sauce to be sweeter. You should end up with about 1 cup of rose sauce that has a color and consistency similar to barbecue sauce.

This sauce has a potent rose flavor and can be incorporated into many recipes.

Try marinating grilled meats and veggies with it, using it as a salad dressing, adding sparkling water to it to make wild-rose soda, spilling it on pancakes, blending it with other fruit sauces—the possibilities are endless—have fun exploring!

I recently put this sauce on some sweet potato corn pudding along with sliced strawberries.

Sweet potato cake with rose sauce and berries

Sweet potato cake with rose sauce and berries

Here is a basic recipe for that, if you’d like to try something similar.

-Sweet Potato Corn Pudding-

1 cup mashed sweet potato (can substitute pumpkin, applesauce or mashed bananas)

1 cup cornmeal

3 cups of water

Maple syrup or sugar to taste

2 tsp. salt

Boil water and salt in a medium-large pot. Reduce to medium heat and whisk in cornmeal slowly, stirring constantly until cornmeal is smooth. Simmer about seven minutes. Whisk in the sweet potato. Add sweetener to taste. Serve with rose sauce and berries.

If you’d like to learn more ways to incorporate rose into your diet, you can search for how to make some of these popular food and medicinal preparations:




Seed Oil



Let’s Speak Ojibwe:

Ogin – a rosehip (also our word for tomato)

Oginiig –rosehips

Oginii-waabigwan – a rose

Oginii-waabigwaniin – roses

Oginiiwaatig – a rose bush

*Language from The Ojibwe People’s Dictionary


by Tashia Hart