made my money in the grain and flour milling business,
with a company called Peavey. After we sold it to Conagra,
I served on Conagra's board for twelve years. I'm now
retired, and have had time to do some of the things I
have always wanted to do in my life, including visiting
the grantee organizations we fund.
As a family, we used to
mainly support the traditional organizations in our area.
By that I mean art institutes and symphonies -nice stuff
that needs support. Eventually, I asked a friend who was
head of the McKnight Foundation, "What needs help
around here that isn't the traditional high-ticket stuff?"
He showed my wife and me an alternative school called
The City, Inc. They just had a little set-up in a front
room. I found myself interested in everything that was
going on there. I worked with this inner city group for
some time, eventually heading up their development committee.
Through this project I became very interested in the inner
city, kids, and education. As I became more involved,
I learned more about it. The City was very multicultural.
I hadn't had that kind of exposure before-not to the real
That was when I changed
my attitude toward giving. My mother was still alive and
my sister and I decided that instead of inheriting from
her when she died, we would accept her offer of money
right then and make a family foundation out of it. The
foundation's assets have grown over the years and that's
what we're giving away now. Our focus continues to be
on inner cities, children, and education. I visit as many
of the organizations we fund as possible. I like to know
who the people are and what they're doing. In fact, that's
one of the things you can do to evaluate your effectiveness
as a giver: go and see what's really going on. If you
show up and have lunch with the people who run the project,
they're impressed-because many donors don't ever visit.
It shows them you're really interested.
Although a small donation
can make a big difference to some groups, I've learned
that I can generally be more effective by giving larger
donations to organizations that I feel strongly about.
We make fewer gifts now than we used to, but in larger
amounts. We give to 30 or 40 programs through the Wells
Family Fund and some more through The Minneapolis Foundation.
We also have a foundation in Palm Beach, which is run by my niece.
We have the ability to say, "We'll give you $50,000
over three years, but you have to get these kind
of results." Sometimes we're able to join with another
fund, so we're able to have more clout. I think we've
been successful, although it's a little early to tell,
given that this is a relatively new approach for us.
By giving more money, we
have a better chance of having the programs hold to a
standard and measure it. I tell them, "I know you'd
like to have this outcome. We'll give you three years
to accomplish it, and then we'll take a look at it. After
that, we may or may not fund you, depending on how it's
going." Requiring specific outcomes compels organizations
to get their act together.
Yet, evaluation is challenging.
Take an alternative school like The City. You might set
a standard for them and say, "You have to have fifteen
graduates." But maybe it's more important that they
have fifteen kids who haven't dropped out. Maybe that's
success. Your own mental criteria of success changes as
you get involved and learn more about the project. But
you can come up with things that are measurable.
- anonymous author
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