A champion of bringing people, charitable resources and ideas together to spark positive community change, Sandra Vargas has served as President and CEO of The Minneapolis Foundation since 2007. She has recently retired from that position and is currently volunteering for boards and issues she feels passionate about.
As leader of one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the country, Ms. Vargas oversaw the management of $700 million in assets; the administration of more than 1,000 charitable funds created by individuals, families, and businesses; and the distribution of more than $45 million in grants each year.
Through its community grantmaking, leadership work, and collaborations, the Foundation addresses critical issues in an effort to create a more vibrant and equitable community. The Foundation’s work is shaped by a desire to create greater social, economic, and racial equity in the community. Under Ms. Vargas’ leadership, the Foundation focused on aligning the philanthropic passions of donors with the emerging needs of the community. Responding to donor interests has been a priority for Ms. Vargas and she ensured that Foundation staff facilitate support for causes that donors are passionate about.
Ms Vargas also repositioned the Foundation to go beyond being just a grantmaker. The Foundation is now a recognized community convener, problem solver and innovator – directly addressing some of the community’s most pressing issues.
A highly-regarded community leader, Ms. Vargas received the “Outstanding Citizen” award in 2012 from the Caux Round Table, a global network of business leaders. More recently, she received the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal “Women in Business Award” for her leadership in the broader Twin Cities community.
Ms. Vargas previously served as Hennepin County administrator, the top executive position in Hennepin County government. In that role, she managed a $2 billion dollar budget and 12,000 employees. During her tenure, Ms. Vargas created and implemented a new mission, vision, and strategic plan for the county with a greater emphasis on measurable results. She began her career as a small-business consultant in the Minnesota Department of Economic Development, and held management positions at the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
A native Minnesotan, Ms. Vargas earned her Bachelor’s in Business Administration from the College of St. Catherine and holds a Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is active in several Twin Cities organizations and serves on the local boards of St. Catherine University, Minnesota Comeback and Wallin Education Partnership. She also is an active member of the national boards of Independent Sector, 50CAN, and Hispanics in Philanthropy.
Throughout her tenure, Ms. Vargas has been recognized as a leader in expanding business development opportunities for women and people of color, building cross-sector collaborations, streamlining business processes and incorporating accountability measures, and promoting strategies to increase individual self-sufficiency and strengthen our community. She was a Bush Fellow, was profiled in the book Heroes Among Us in 2008 , and received WomenVenture’s Pioneer Award in 2009, and the Medal of Honor from St. Catherine’s University in 2010.