When Mini-Golf Goes Rogue, Artists Win

ON August 19, 2016

Struggling artists fared even worse than usual during the Great Recession when many arts organizations went out of business. Nonprofit professional Jennifer Pennington wanted to change the dynamic so artists and the organizations that serve them could be self-sufficient. She wanted to make a night at the arts accessible and fun—not silent, incomprehensible or smattered with inappropriately timed applause.  

So Jennifer and her husband Chris created Can Can Wonderland an enormous minigolf arena with artist-designed holes. By building the course in the old American Can building, they are both preserving a landmark and creating jobs for local residents. Jennifer may not know it, but at heart, she’s part of a growing breed of “social entrepreneurs.” Unlike those whose only goal is to maximize profits despite any consequences to society (think Trump), social entrepreneurs want to do good and do well—not one or the other.

Sounds great, right? I bet you have some awesome sounding ideas too. But how in the world did they find the money?  

With unusual collateral (artistic golf holes) and an unproven concept, Jennifer knew she couldn’t get a bank loan. Angel investors seeking the next Google aren’t interested in a solid but low growth social business. That’s when she called for business advice and financing from local nonprofit organizations NDC and LISC who help people start and grow businesses.  

The story doesn’t end there, though. Who helps the helpers? Luckily several MCF member foundations stepped up to support NDC and LISC. The Saint Paul Foundation and The McKnight Foundation understand that the for-profit sector can be a force for good. Ah, it’s great to see the Twin Cities Impact Investing Ecosystem at work!

Noodles donated by MCF member Target; Photography Leila Navidi – Star Tribune

Stay tuned for what’s next for Jennifer and Chris as they pursue their dream. Plus, I’d like to hear your do good/do well ideas and how you got them launched.  

At Can Can Wonderland’s grand opening, I can’t wait to hit the toad! Tweet me your social business ideas @susan_hammel.

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What I'm doing now

The tide is turning: more people are thinking about their moral, social and environmental values when they shop, play, and invest. Impact investing is going mainstream with more robust and consistent impact measurement and monitoring happening every day. The blowback on ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) makes true impact investing (which requires impact measurement) all the more relevant. Will changing how people view money change the world? Well, it isn’t a panacea for all that afflicts us but as they say, “follow the money”. Investors have power. Use yours wisely.