Portrait Illustrations by Randall Nelson
Illustration of Minnesotans who choose to improve the health of others with their philanthropy.
As the old saying goes, “At least we have our health.” Until we don’t.
Those who have experienced this reality never forget it. Some choose to make charitable gifts as a way to make positive change around declining health. They give because they know the devastation of a disease, like cancer; because they believe in helping a population that deserves exceptional care, like our aging population; because they feel that all people—particularly those in the community in which they live—deserve the gift of health.
The following pages contain stories of several Twin Citians who give to help create a healthier Twin Cities. They give with volunteer time, with leadership service, and with financial contributions intended to improve our health.
We are one of the healthiest cities in the nation, and we are one of the most philanthropic. As a city, we do have our health to count on, which is no surprise, considering the charitable gifts we receive from those who believe we should have it.
The Suprise Return on the Investment
“I’ve found that every time I’ve had an opportunity to do something new, it hasn’t just been giving time. I get a ton back.”
Minneapolis office managing partner, Ernst & Young
John Wilgers got involved with the United Way in 1986 when he was living in Kansas City. The financial firm he worked for, Ernst & Young, would loan a young executive to help the United Way run campaigns, and the experience helped Wilgers get an inside look at the United Way while it helped him grow professionally. It also forged a deep relationship between himself and the United Way.
The United Way has three main focus areas: families, children, and health. While Wilgers doesn’t earmark his donation for health causes specifically, the organization partners with programs around the Twin Cities that encourage healthy living and offer a variety of health services. It’s an organization he continues to support financially, and with his time.
When Wilgers moved his family to the Twin Cities in 2005, the Greater Twin Cities United Way offered not only a philanthropic opportunity, but a chance for him to get to know new people and a new place. He has chaired several committees and held various leadership positions within the organization, which helped him connect with the Twin Cities community as a whole.
“I’ve found that every time I’ve had an opportunity to do something new, it hasn’t just been giving time. I get a ton back,” Wilgers says. “Every opportunity is developmental, and I grow in some way when I do something new with the organization.”
Three Questions To Ask
There’s a lot more that goes into donating than dollars. Here’s what to ask before committing.
Rob Nordin, a vice president and philanthropic specialist at Wells Fargo, and Jeremy Wells, vice president of philanthropic services at Minnesota Philanthropy Partners, focus on questions about why you are donating.
“If you were omnipotent and could change anything next Monday, what would you change?”
This is one question, from a list of about 100, that Nordin might ask when working with prospective donors. His goal is to help people decide where they should donate by finding their passions and defining what they want their legacy to be, two of the main criteria he recommends considering before making a significant or substantial donation.
Wells has a similar strategy.
“How will you evaluate the impact of your gift?” he often asks. “Giving this question proper consideration on the front end ensures you and the organization have a good understanding of expectations before the gift is ever made.”
Wells also stresses the importance of the question, “What type of gift do I want to give?” Is it cash, equities, charitable trusts, or another option? The decision can vary depending on what you want out of your gift, as well as an organization’s needs.
Deciding where and what to donate can feel overwhelming, but covering all your bases can make the decision a little easier. And it can make you feel more comfortable about where your time and money go.
The Common Bond of Cancer
President, JNBA Financial Advisors
Like many of us, Kim Brown’s personal life has been affected by cancer. When she was 8, her grandfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Later, her mother developed breast cancer. Brown even lost a dog to cancer.
These incidents remind her that the disease knows no bounds. “I don’t know anybody who hasn’t been touched by cancer,” Brown says.
In 2008, Brown joined the board of the Angel Foundation, which offers financial assistance to families dealing with cancer. She and her husband, Richard, own JNBA Financial Advisors, and have made donating to the foundation part of their yearly giving.
Beyond donating money, Brown has spent time getting involved with various foundation programs such as kids camps and the Facing Cancer Together program, which helps children understand a parent’s diagnosis and offers counseling. She is also wrapping up her fifth year on the board of directors.
Brown wanted to give back in more ways than just writing a check, and the Angel Foundation’s mission of helping people, especially children, through cancer makes it special to her.
“When I got involved with the kids camp, I listened to kids between the ages of 4 and 8 talk about their experiences,” Brown says. “It profoundly changes your life and shows what a blessing it is to be able to provide support.”
Don Knudson and Gloria Swanson
Ebenezer Foundation, Fairview Health Services
Meeting at a nursing home isn’t a classic love story—“It’s weird to think we met at a nursing home,” Don Knudson jokes—but that’s the story of he and Gloria Swanson. They volunteer at Ebenezer Foundation, which is part of Fairview Health Services, and work with older adults to lead independent and healthy lives. The pair met while volunteering, fell in love, got married, and continue to make work with Ebenezer a priority.
Knudson has been a chaplain at Ebenezer Care Center for more than 21 years. His job is primarily “compassionate listening.” Whether that is helping someone deal with their health concerns or simply having a conversation, Knudson feels he is there to help make the residents’ lives better.
Like Knudson, Swanson helps seniors deal with their day-to-day lives. In addition to Clinical Pastoral Education training, she also has a medical degree from the University of Minnesota that focuses on geriatric care. That made coming to Ebenezer as a volunteer a natural fit.
“Our role is to be supportive to the values of the people we serve, listen to their needs, and help them in a meaningful way,” Knudson says.
Beyond spending time at Ebenezer, the pair has established a fund in their name that is dedicated to supporting and training chaplains and pastors in pastoral care. Their hope is that it will help keep the Clinical Pastoral Education program going at Ebenezer.
“You can always give money, and we do that too,” Knudson says. “We wanted to establish a fund where we could express the values we have lived. And our story might help inspire others.”
Giving That’s Work-Related
“There are important areas where even smaller contributions can make a difference.”
Vice President and Chief Counsel of employment law, Medtronic
“My husband and I firmly believe that when you are blessed you give back,” Michelle Miller says. Miller is particularly passionate about health causes and education, and she works to make a difference in them.
As an employee of Medtronic, Miller has opportunities to get involved through work. Medtronic’s Mission in Motion program encourages employees to donate money by matching any donation made to an approved charity dollar-for-dollar, up to a predetermined amount. They also encourage employees to volunteer and get involved in the community.
The program offered Miller an opportunity to donate money to health care organizations that work with communities typically underserved in health care and health education. Miller is also on the board of the YWCA, which focuses on health and wellness for young women and girls, and is especially active with populations of color. Miller points to higher rates of health issues, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, among African American women. She believes education and access to good health care are the keys to preventing and managing these diseases. “Many people are members of groups that don’t have access to diagnoses and don’t have access to educational resources to help them manage those diseases,” Miller says.
“These are important areas where even smaller contributions can make a difference.”
Continuing a Legacy
“A planned gift through your estate is the final gift you can make. It’s a way to show your friends, family, and community what was important to you.”
Attorney, Kutak Rock LLP
David Murphy’s life forever changed in 2001 when his mother, Judy, required a lung transplant. “It was really her last chance at getting her life back,” says Murphy, a University of Minnesota Law School alumnus and attorney at Kutak Rock LLP. “It gave her a high quality of life for another four years.”
In those four years, his mother was inspired by her treatment and recovery to give back. “She was given a second chance and made the most of it,” says Murphy of Judy’s accomplishments: co-chairing a fundraising event, regularly financially contributing to the U, never missing a lung support group meeting, and co-founding the nonprofit Hope Chest News with members from the lung support group.
When she passed away in 2005, Murphy wanted to continue his mother’s legacy of work. In addition to regularly contributing funds to the U of M, Murphy also became a chair of the U’s Lung Advisory Committee to raise awareness of the U’s Center for Lung Science and Health and entice donors to support the cause. “My reason to volunteer has been that my mom had a unique story, but she’s not alone,” Murphy says. (Murphy himself was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and received treatment at the U.)
Murphy wanted to make a lasting contribution. Last year he added the U to his will as part of his estate’s contributions. “All the care that I got and my family got was fantastic,” he says. “I was raised that it’s good to give back and support through your energies all types of organizations and causes you believe in.”
Though Murphy plans to continue working on the advisory committee and making regular contributions, his final estate contribution is something he’s especially honored to give. “A planned gift through your estate is the final gift you can make,” he says. “It’s a way to show your friends, family, and community what was important to you and what you supported while you were alive, and a way to help other people.”