How We Give: A Conversation with Ron Poole

Ron Poole and his wife, Molly, have used their Donor Advised Fund at The Minneapolis Foundation to support a variety of organizations engaged in health care, medical research and social services in Minneapolis. A retired investment counselor, Ron also serves on the board of the Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation. We caught up with him recently to ask what drives his giving, what’s going on at Abbott and how he and Molly make decisions about their philanthropy.

Ron Poole

Ron Poole

Minneapolis Foundation: Health care is a longtime focus of your philanthropy. Why is it important to you?

Ron: Both my wife and I have a strong interest in making sure we are healthy. My dad died very young, at 52, of a heart attack, and that was probably the genesis of it. We also have friends who are doctors and nurses and so forth, and we’ve always been interested in what they do. I was also treated for prostate cancer at the University of Minnesota 12 years ago, and the care I got there prompted me to support their work.

Minneapolis Foundation: You give time as well as money, not least by serving on the board of the Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation. What’s going on at Abbott right now that Minnesotans should know about?

Ron: Raising money for bricks and mortar is a big part of what most hospital foundations do, and that’s certainly true at Abbott. We opened the Mother Baby Center, a joint venture with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, about five years ago. I also co-chaired the Critical Care Campaign to re-do the emergency department, which is almost finished, and the neurological ICU, which is underway. Right now, Allina Health (the nonprofit health care system that Abbott is part of) is undergoing a major strategic plan from a capital standpoint. We will probably be doing some building at the Abbott campus, but it hasn’t been decided what’s next.

At Abbott, the foundation and our donors are funding not only capital projects, but also research and a variety of other initiatives, such as investing in our nurses, who are critical to excellent patient care. We also support the hospital’s centers of excellence, like the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, the Minneapolis Heart Institute, and Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. There are lots of ways to help—it just depends on what you’re passionate about.

Minneapolis Foundation: How do you and Molly decide which causes to support in the community?

Ron: We like to support organizations that give people a helping hand, whether by providing medical care, housing or job training. Every year, we sit down together and take a look at our options. There’s never a shortage of opportunities to give, but one thing we do is try to figure out how we can be truly helpful to a small number of organizations, rather than just giving money to everybody. We also tend to support organizations that don’t have huge expenses for fundraising. We often use Robyn Schein, our Philanthropic Advisor at The Minneapolis Foundation, as a resource, and we’ll ask for her advice if an organization we’re not familiar with approaches us with a request.

Minneapolis Foundation: Why did you establish a Donor Advised Fund?

Ron: Molly and I have always given away low cost-basis stock, and that used to be a real project: We’d have to call all the organizations we wanted to support and talk to them about which broker they wanted us to send the stock to. It took us about two months to get those gifts organized every year. We got to a point where we thought about starting a private foundation, but then I talked to Bill Sternberg at The Minneapolis Foundation, and he said, “Maybe you should just open a Donor Advised Fund.” Most people think you’ve got to have a huge amount of money to open a Donor Advised Fund, but that’s not true. When I finally started looking at it, I said, “This is a no-brainer.” It has really helped streamline things for us: We do a fair amount of giving at the end of the year, and now we can make one gift of stock to our Donor Advised Fund and then recommend grants to all the nonprofits we want to support. We can do everything in about 20 minutes.

The Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation funds capital projects, research and a variety of other initiatives, such as investments in the hospital’s nursing staff.