Kimberly A. Nelson, General Mills Foundation

TITLE: President

FUNDING AREAS: Food insecurity and nutrition, children's health, education, and the arts

CONTACT: Kim.Nelson@genmills.com, 800-248-7310

IP TAKE: As committed to charitable work in her personal life as her professional life, the indefatigable Nelson oversees hundreds of grants annually to a wide range of nonprofits in regions of the country near General Mills facilities, with a particular emphasis on the Twin Cities.

PROFILE: Kim Nelson is a packaged foods company executive by trade. A corporate officer at General Mills since 2000, Nelson has been integral in promoting such American pantry/lunch box staples as Hamburger Helper, Chex Mix, and Betty Crocker fruit snacks. Today, Nelson serves as General Mills' senior vice president of external relations and also as president of the company's charitable arm, the General Mills Foundation.

At the foundation, headquartered in Minneapolis, Nelson oversees about $25 million in charitable grants annually. The foundation's primary areas of focus are family services, health and nutrition wellness, education, and arts and culture.

Nelson is obviously ambitious in her career, but she also devotes some serious resources to helping her community. At General Mills, she helped found programs to foster development among black and female employees. Outside of General Mills, Nelson is engaged in a slew of do-gooder causes. From her General Mills bio:

Kim is very engaged in the Twin Cities community with a current focus on improving education outcomes for children of color. She serves on the Steering Committee of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) and was the first co-chair of the AALF Education Work Group which advocates for education reform in the Twin Cities.
Nelson has also served on the board of YWCA-Minneapolis and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Nelson's effectiveness, by all reports, lies in her commitment, follow-through, and general willingness to Do Things and Be Nice. As the president and CEO of YWCA-Minneapolis explains:

Kim shows up. If she commits to something, she does what she says she's going to do. And she's tremendous at keeping her relationships going. She's always ready to offer a hand or congratulations. She stays in touch; she really wants to know what's going on in your life.

And when she's not running divisions of General Mills or finding solutions to problems plaguing our society, Nelson is a mother to two daughters.

Nelson's philanthropic spirit fits in well at General Mills. Since the foundation's inception in 1954, General Mills has contributed more than $1 billion to a variety of causes, including the arts, education, hunger and nutrition, and natural disasters. In 2013, General Mills' giving totaled $154,000, which includes food donations, corporate contributions, and foundation grants. 

General Mills Foundation has a distinct Twin Cities focus, due in part to the fact that their corporate headquarters is located in nearby Golden Valley, Minnesota. (For many years, the General Mills Foundation has been the single largest corporate donor to United Way in the Twin Cities.) At a press conference in 2012, St. Paul, Minnesota mayor Chris Coleman quipped, "There's a reason it's called 'Generous' Mills." 

So what exactly does Nelson fund with her millions of dollars at General Mills? A lot of things. Each year the foundation gives upwards of 700 grants, most in the several-thousand-dollar range, to organizations engaged in General Mills' priority program areas. Some of the grants exceed $100,000, but most are smaller than that. What the grants have in common is that they're generally made in communities within 50 miles of a General Mills facility, and they go to non-profit organizations.
A few of the larger grants the General Mills Foundation awarded recently:
  • $200,000 to the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity (presumably to help build houses for needy people in and around Minneapolis and St. Paul)
  • $150,000 to Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Incidentally, Nelson teaches Catholic religious education to high school students in her spare time.)
  • $333,000 to Second-Harvest Heartland, a hunger relief organization, in support of the Hunger Free Minnesota campaign
Interested in applying for General Mills Foundation funding? There are several procedures, depending on your area of focus and your geography. If you have programming in the Twin Cities region, you can apply in pretty much any program area at any time. If you live near a General Mills facility, you can coordinate with the Community Action Councils, groups at each General Mills location in charge of the area's philanthropic giving. Additionally, there are requests for proposals in specific program areas toward the end of the calendar year. A general summary of the General Mills Foundation's grant-giving guidelines is available here.
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