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Guest editorial: Celebrating 22 years with gratitude

"It has been an honor to serve this organization and region, and I am leaving things in good hands."

Diana Anderson
Diana Anderson
Southwest Initiative Foundation
We are part of The Trust Project.

The New Year marks a big change for me personally and professionally. After 22 years on staff, I’ll be retiring from Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) in January. My heart is full as I look around southwest Minnesota and think of all the good we have been able to do together. I wanted to share a few of my favorite memories with you in parting.

I joined SWIF in 2001 as development director and later served as chief operating officer, vice president/COO and finally president/CEO. One of my first projects was to help launch our community foundation program. It started with a focus on fundraising and grantmaking but quickly grew into helping communities think about their shared values, how they wanted to reinvest. From four communities, I’ve watched it grow to 31 affiliate partners, helping retain wealth in our rural region and giving people a way to support the charities, and the places, that are important in their lives. Some of my most treasured relationships grew out of that community-building work.

In 2009, we received our first gift of farmland into the Keep It Growing Farmland Giving Program. Keep It Growing was designed by Pat Costello, an attorney in Lakefield, to help people donate farmland that is typically kept in production. It was exciting to work together to bring his idea to life at the foundation, and today we have 1,730 acres in the program.

One memory I will always carry with me is attending the Council on Foundations Community Foundation Conference in 2015 with Rob Saunders, who was SWIF’s board chair at the time. We were preparing to start a new strategic planning process. Together, we sat in the audience to hear Robert Putnam talk about his best-selling book, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.”

As we listened to the data on the challenges facing kids today, Rob and I knew that we had just heard something so powerful that we couldn’t ignore it. The board adopted a bold vision to close the opportunity gap for all kids in our region, and the Grow Our Own strategy was launched.

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It was the first time that the foundation had committed to applying its resources across all program areas to address a single challenge — one that the board felt would have the greatest impact on our communities decades from now. Today, that work looks like building vibrant and welcoming communities, supporting kids and families and strengthening the economy to ensure all people feel a deep sense of belonging and opportunity in the place they call home.

Our original purpose when the foundation started in April 1986 was to alleviate human distress and promote economic development. We found ourselves full circle as we focused on this again at the height of COVID-19 uncertainties, distributing $24 million in grants and loans into southwest Minnesota over two-plus years. We leveraged and secured resources at a time when our families, businesses, nonprofits, schools and communities needed it most.

It has been an honor to serve this organization and region, and I am leaving things in good hands. We are blessed to have talented staff at the foundation who care deeply about southwest Minnesota and work tirelessly to fulfill our mission of connecting people, investing in ideas and building communities. There has been strong and visionary leadership from board members throughout our history, and today the Board of Directors continues its commitment to our organization’s vision, mission and values. I’m excited for incoming president Scott Marquardt to lead this incredible team and organization forward.

Each of you, too, are an important part of our region’s story. You continue to help us realize a bright future through your ongoing care, leadership and support of your community. Together, we’re part of making southwest Minnesota a special place where all people can thrive.

Diana Anderson served southwest Minnesota as a staff member of the Southwest Initiative Foundation for 22 years, most recently as president/CEO. She is retiring Jan. 31.

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