Sharing the Lessons of a Giving Circle
When Amy Podlesak started working at Land O’Lakes, she brought ideas and insight from her time with Fourth Generation.
Amy Podlesak had been working in nonprofit development for a few years when she moved to the Twin Cities from Chicago. A transplant in a state where many residents have deep roots, Amy was eager to make connections. She wanted to learn about her new community and get to know organizations that were making a difference on local issues. As a fundraiser, she was also interested in learning more about grantmaking and exploring philanthropy as a next step in her career.
Joining a giving circle helped her achieve all these goals. As a member of Fourth Generation, a group hosted by the Minneapolis Foundation, Amy teamed up with several dozen like-minded professionals to choose community issues they cared about, research local organizations addressing them, raise money and pool their own resources to make grants they decided on together.
By the end of her second year with Fourth Generation, Amy was starting a new job in community relations at Land O’Lakes, overseeing the company’s employee giving campaign and other projects related to corporate social responsibility.
Even in her first weeks on the job, Amy was thinking about how to share the lessons she’d learned with Fourth Generation. As a farmer-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes has a strong culture of giving back, especially in rural communities across the country where many of its member dairy farmers, agricultural co-ops, and employees are based. The company already had a robust suite of programs to support employee giving and volunteerism. “How do we take that to the next level?” she wondered.
One answer she came up with: A new program that invites employees to learn about Land O’Lakes grantmaking while allocating some of the company’s philanthropic dollars themselves.
“I designed this program from scratch, and I one-hundred percent modeled it off my time in Fourth Generation. ” — Amy Podlesak
Land O’Lakes piloted its Community Impact Council last year with a group of 10 Twin Cities employees who applied to participate, committing to a six-month grantmaking process with monthly meetings. Amy ran the meetings and arranged for expert speakers to give presentations on grantmaking and economic development, the group’s chosen focus issue. In partnership with her teammate, Kelly Bukowski, she helped set up a volunteer opportunity with Eastside Neighborhood Services, where the Council spent a day doing mock interviews with participants in the organization’s senior employment program. Beyond that, the employees did most of the work, Amy said – researching nonprofits, going on site visits, reading grant applications, making award decisions.
The Council was so successful that, this year, the group expanded to include 14 members who recently awarded $100,000 to organizations that focus on hunger relief. While Amy continued to lead the local in-person council, Kelly launched a second, virtual cohort for employees who live outside the Twin Cities.
Pictured Above: Members of Land O’Lakes Community Impact Council
“This is a way for us to open the door for people to come inside and see what our philanthropy looks like,” Amy said. “It’s been a great employee engagement opportunity – a real win-win.”
As for Fourth Generation, Amy highly recommends the group, especially to anyone interested in learning about grantmaking and the local nonprofit scene. “I feel like it’s the best program out there for people to get involved in their community in a meaningful way, beyond donating and volunteering.”
Amy and her work are a great example of how giving circles like Fourth Generation fuel positive change, said Sara Lueben, the Minneapolis Foundation’s Director of Collective Giving. “Collective giving creates a ripple effect,” she said. “Each member brings their lived experiences and knowledge to the table, and our discussions become a space where we explore challenges in our community from multiple viewpoints. As we apply what we’ve learned together, we not only magnify our impact within the giving circle, but also carry this transformative spirit into other parts of our lives.”