This article by Sarah Lemagie, reprinted with permission from the Minneapolis Foundation, first appeared in the foundation’s website on Dec.7, 2020.
When the pandemic struck Minnesota this spring, Pearl Bergad reached out to her two sons and their wives: We’ve built up a pretty substantial reserve in our Donor Advised Fund at the Minneapolis Foundation, she pointed out. Let’s do something with it now.
The energetic grantmaking that followed is a reflection of our community’s great struggles in 2020, but also of the Bergads’ enthusiasm for family philanthropy. “Our family has always seen this as a collective thing that we all do together,” said Corey Bergad.
For years, all of the Bergads have made contributions to the same Donor Advised Fund: Pearl and her husband, Bob; their elder son Aaron and his wife, Angie; and Corey and his wife, Twilight. Once or twice a year, Pearl sends out an email to start a group conversation about how to invest those funds in the community. Everyone shares ideas, and the group is supportive of each person’s charitable interests. “There’s no real sense of, ‘This is my pot of money, I’m going to do this with it’ or, ‘That is your pot of money, I can’t touch it,’” Corey said. “There has always been a sense that the family has a pot of money, and it’s our responsibility to share it with those who are in need.”
In the past, the family’s giving has followed themes flowing from their passions: The arts, especially programs that expand appreciation of Chinese culture in Minnesota. Education. Protecting the Boundary Waters, and giving kids from underserved communities more opportunities to experience it.
When COVID hit, an enormous swath of local needs arose, so the Bergads agreed to choose one issue that they would focus on. Their giving theme for 2020? Food and hunger relief.
To help them vet nonprofits, they enlisted the help of their Philanthropic Advisor, Jenny Johnson.
“Jenny has been a wonderful resource, because there are so many organizations out there that address hunger,” Pearl said. “It’s great to have the Minneapolis Foundation do some of the due diligence for us, and to say, ‘I think your money will go a long way if you give to these groups.’”
“Every single person in our community has a role to play in responding to the pandemic,” Jenny said.
“The magic of working for a community foundation is that, when we’re faced with a challenge as huge and complex as this one, I can leverage all of the foundation’s expertise, knowledge, and connections to support our donors as they research nonprofits and look for other ways to help. One of the best parts of my job is to partner with colleagues and donors to help respond with intention and generosity.”— Jenny Johnson
With guidance from Jenny, the Bergads decided on a set of complementary investments in organizations that provide food and hunger-relief services. They made grants to large nonprofits like Second Harvest Heartland, which has the infrastructure and buying power to efficiently distribute large amounts of food. They made hyper-local grants to address the intense needs in North Minneapolis, giving to projects like Appetite for Change and North Market. They even made a grant to East Side Neighborhood Services, which runs a food shelf just down the block from Aaron and Angie’s home in Prospect Park.
They also contributed to the Minneapolis Foundation’s OneMPLS Fund, a collective impact fund supported by people and businesses all over the community. In 2020 alone, the OneMPLS Fund made over $4 million in grants to 160 local nonprofits that are addressing emerging needs related to the pandemic.
“One of the things we appreciate about the Minneapolis Foundation is that, because it does a lot of background research on small organizations, it ends up having a really good window on where the areas of need are,” Aaron said. As a result, his family knew that their contribution to the OneMPLS Fund would be invested in well-run nonprofits that are doing critical work in the community.
2020 is winding down, but the Bergads aren’t finished. Despite the uptick in their giving this spring and summer, they’re planning to do more grantmaking before the end of December. And they’re already looking ahead to 2021.
“One thing we’re thinking about is how to continue to put our city back together after the turmoil we’ve been through in the last six months,” said Aaron, adding that the family will continue to look to the Foundation for ideas and partnership. “We feel like the Minneapolis Foundation is stepping back and really digging into the problems, as opposed to tossing around quick fixes. That’s important to us: that the actions taken are thoughtful and not just reactionary.”
The Bergads are also reflecting on how they can deepen their approach to family giving. Pearl and Bob are eager to watch as the next generation takes on more responsibility for the family’s grantmaking. Their sons, in turn, are already starting to teach their own children the value of giving back.
One of this year’s learning moments unfolded on a summer day in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. After a night of community anguish and destruction, Aaron and his 10-year-old daughter headed out to the Midway area of St. Paul to help clean up. From experiences like that, Angie hopes that her children will grow up knowing that contributing to your community isn’t something you do just by writing checks once a year. “You talk about it throughout the year,” she said. “You make it just a part of life.”