Callie Neslund, 38, will become the sixth chief executive of the GiveWell Community Foundation, succeeding attorney John Attaway, 64, who is stepping down as president and CEO after three years and will remain with the organization as counsel.
Neslund joined GiveWell, a nonprofit organization that fosters philanthropy in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, as chief operating officer last August after a career in government affairs and marketing.
The promotion takes effect March 1, the organization announced.
Neslund, a Lakeland resident, will be the foundation’s sixth CEO, following Fran Munson, Kim Brock, John Fitzwater, Terry Simmers, and Attaway.
“In the back of my mind I’ve long thought that (the GiveWell Community Foundation) would be a natural transition from the corporate world. Working in the same community where my husband and I are raising our children brings great joy and satisfaction,” Neslund said. “Our board of directors has been thoughtful and proactive in succession planning, so my first six months with the foundation was busy to say the least and marked by an intentionally accelerated development to prepare for this role.”
In the past six months, Neslund said much of her work has been helping to find disaster relief funds for hard-hit Hardee County after Hurricane Ian.
“We used the previously established framework for our COVID relief fund and transitioned it to a joint disaster relief fund with United Way of Central Florida. That collaborative effort yielded strong support coming from all over the country and we were able to get much needed funds out the door quickly in the form of two grant rounds” totaling nearly $200,000, Neslund said.
Neslund called 2022 a banner year for the foundation, adding the foundation gave out 1,418 grants totaling $75 million, compared with $30 million the year before.
“As you’d expect, donations into the community foundation ebb and flow with the state of the economy, but generally you see grants pick up during the down years because the needs of the community increase. That was certainly true in 2008 and 2009 when there was an uptick in grants funded primarily from donations made in prior years. That’s reflective of the unique role community foundations have as an institution of permanence and a community safety net,” Neslund explained.
One of her first tasks as CEO will be to oversee a community roadshow presenting the findings from the United Community Needs Assessment, which the foundation partnered on with the United Way of Central Florida. The organizations hopes to finalize a report on the findings of the survey this month. The goal is to connect with new and existing donors to discuss the challenges facing the tri-county area of Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties.
“I’d love to pilot a shark tank-style pitch night to engage younger donors and expose them to the work nonprofits are doing in our community,” Neslund said.
During her first six months as CEO, Neslund said a consultant will assist her with analyzing the organization’s workflow.
With a predicted recession ahead, Neslund will also monitor the stock market to ensure the foundation makes “prudent choices to safeguard … assets so they can continue to do the most good.“ She said she’s keeping a close eye on how current geopolitical risks impact domestic and international holdings, and making sure the foundation’s portfolio is diversified with equities and fixed income.
When it comes to donors, Neslund hopes more millennials will create donor-advised funds, like she and her husband did.
“It was the perfect solution for our season of life. We were raising small children, coming into our peak earning years, and passionate about giving back to our community but with zero margin to do so thoughtfully. So, the concept of a philanthropic savings account where we could invest and grow those charitable dollars to be granted at a later time was very appealing. I hope to connect with others who are experiencing that same dynamic,” Neslund said.
Neslund said the foundation is exploring the development of endowed impact funds, with the hope that a broader spectrum of the community would donate. According to Neslund, one of the biggest challenges the foundation faces is the majority of its assets are in donor-advised funds.
“As such, our work can be very transactional. With the support of our board of directors, I’d like to evolve into more of a community leadership model whereby we grow unrestricted funds which will allow us to be nimble and more responsive to emerging community needs,” Neslund explained.
Before working for the GiveWell Community Foundation, Neslund collaborated with the foundation through her work in corporate philanthropy with The Mosaic Company.
“We built playgrounds and pavilions, fed hungry children and lonely seniors, ensured services were available to the mentally ill, and trained future agriculturalists,” Neslund said.
She believes her experience working as a nonprofit board chair for other organizations has taught her about investing funds, applying for capacity-building grants and establishing endowments. She has served on the boards of several nonprofits including Volunteers in Service to the Elderly, Catapult Lakeland, A Woman’s Choice, the Junior League of Greater Lakeland, and both the Lakeland and Bartow Economic Development Councils.
Neslund also has experience in the political arena. She spent six years working for former Florida Rep. Seth McKeel of Lakeland , who she said remains a mentor and close friend.
“That experience was invaluable in terms of connecting with the local community. We toured numerous nonprofits, schools and businesses and assisted constituents who were trying to navigate the throes of state government and access to services,” Neslund recalled.
Neslund is different from her predecessors in that she’s a millennial mother of two, which she said will allow her to bring more soft skills to the role, such as empathy, adaptability and collaboration.
“You can be a life-long learner at any age, but I think I bring the energy and curiosity to try new things,” Neslund said.
In her short time with the GiveWell Community Foundation, Neslund said she’s worked to understand why people donate to the foundation.
“When I came on staff, I really wanted to meet with fundholders to understand their motivations and experience choosing GWCF as their philanthropic partner. I started with donors whom we hadn’t heard from in a while and found ways to educate and re-engage them,” Neslund said, adding that many of them were “widows who wanted to carry on their family giving but weren’t as familiar with the community foundation model and families who had set up memorial funds for loved ones and needed assistance identifying nonprofits doing work in their particular passion area.”
Neslund has also met with many of the nonprofits in the community and believes there is a need for more training on how to run them more efficiently.
“Many local nonprofits are started by passionate folks who see a community need. They step in to fill that gap, but along the way realize they may lack experience with a board of directors, financial statements, or developing gift acceptance policies,” Neslund said.
The foundation offers education workshops as well as grants through Empower Polk and Impact Polk. She said the GiveWell Community Foundation was instrumental in starting the local Association of Fundraising Professionals chapter.
“I’d like to build on that to provide greater access to resources and training. We are fortunate in the Central Florida area to have stellar organizations offering nonprofits governance, management and staff development training. The challenge is the majority of these in-person offerings are only available in Tampa or Orlando, not in the geographies we serve which are Polk, Highlands, and Hardee counties. While virtual training is available, I recognize the value of the networking and support that comes from peer-to-peer interactions and want to remove the cost barriers prohibiting such experiences,” Neslund said.
When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, Neslund believes that starts with having diverse perspectives in leadership.
“The organization has put a lot of effort into diversifying our board of directors in terms of race, age, gender, skillset, and geography. It’s an ongoing process we remain committed to. Additionally, we try to highlight nonprofits who are working in marginalized or minority communities and who may be lesser known. That includes assistance navigating all the IRS bureaucracy and matchmaking with donors,” Neslund explained.
Neslund earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Palm Beach Atlantic University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Florida.
Attaway will move to a counsel role, providing legal guidance on the organization’s funds, investment operations, general corporate and commercial transactions and contracts, compliance with tax laws and regulations and investment-related tax matters, a news release stated.
Neslund “has an impressive track record in both business and philanthropy. I am very happy with the board’s decision, and confident that (Neslund) will ensure the community foundation continues its mission of championing charitable giving to improve the quality of life in the areas we serve, both now and for future generations,” Attaway said in a prepared statement.
“On behalf of the board, I want to thank John for his valuable contributions to the GWCF over his past three years as president and CEO. His steady hand guided the organization through COVID and Hurricane Ian, providing support to those most impacted while at the same time growing the foundation and significantly solidifying its operations,” John Gray Jr., chair of the board of directors, said via a news release. “Callie has the vision and the drive to take GWCF to new levels of success and community impact.”
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