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Planting a Seed

John Lindberg (middle) accepts the Community Builder Award on behalf of the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation, posing alongside ProKids executive director Tracy Cook (left) and former board president Bob McMahon (right).

Nearly a decade ago, John Lindberg, president of the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation, surprised ProKids with a large, unexpected gift.

John called ProKids community director Jennifer McKettrick and asked her to lunch. While the foundation had made a number of gifts to ProKids in the past, nothing had prepared Jenn for what was to come. Because about five minutes into this meeting, John presented ProKids with the single largest donation it had ever received at that time.

Jenn jokes often that the second she saw the check, she lost her ability to function – to comprehend what it was that John was saying. But as her shock wore off, John delivered the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation’s vision for ProKids.

With this donation, the foundation hoped that ProKids would operate with an eye toward the future. He encouraged ProKids to consider creating an endowment.

ProKids was younger than most organizations that create endowments – so while ProKids leaders had begun to envision a sustainable future, they weren’t quite there yet. Like many nonprofits, ProKids was largely living hand to mouth, raising money each year with fingers crossed that incoming funds would cover expenses and meet the needs of its community.

John, Bob Pitcairn and Ed Diller, the foundations trustees, knew an endowment and other sustainability funds could take some of that pressure off.

Soon after that storied meeting, ProKids began to develop its sustainability fund policies, including endowment and board restricted funds. The staff and board worked in tandem to determine how best to meet the needs of current and future children.

While ProKids was in the thick of this work, drafting the policies, a woman reached out, after attending a ProKids Snapshot informational session and said she wanted to make a “gift of significance in memory of her sister.”

ProKids staff met with her and described all current efforts and programs, but she said she was interested in something longer term. So, Tracy showed her the draft endowment policy full of red lines and edits.

The woman read it, asked a few questions, and said “this is it.” That woman was Liz Ricci, who with her family and friends, worked with ProKids to create the first fund of its kind – the Amy Merrell Steps to Success Endowment.

Since then, in addition to our first long-term fund, ProKids has created sustainability funds that include: the ProKids Restricted Fund, which contains that first surprise gift from the Knowlton Foundation, and the ProKids Legacy Endowment Fund, which the foundation created and continues to contribute to.

In 10 consecutive years of giving, they have donated $1.2 million to ProKids.

And their sizable donations and visionary spirit created something of a snowball effect, prompting ProKids to work to grow sustainability funds and in turn grow our advocacy consistently.

With the support of the Knowlton Foundation, we have grown sustainably. In 2014, we served 605 children. And in 2022, we’re on track to serve double that.

Thanks to the vision of the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation, ProKids was able to receive our first endowment gift, create a variety of sustainability funds, and invite new and existing donors to join us in ensuring ProKids lives far into the future.

We thank the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation for their commitment to our children, their faith in ProKids, their willingness to be a catalyst, and for sharing our vision of a safe, permanent and nurturing home for all children.

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