Gaalswyk retiring from Initiative Foundation

Kathy Gaalswyk of Pillager, founding president of the Little Falls-based Initiative Foundation, has announced that she will transition out of her position at the end of this year after 30 years of service. In her role, Gaalswyk has led the Foundation from its inception in 1986 through three decades of increasing resilience and vitality in Central Minnesota’s economy and communities.

A cornerstone in Central Minnesota, the Initiative Foundation provides business financing and technical assistance, awards nonprofit grants, hosts Turn Key Partner Funds and offers a variety of leadership programs that empower citizens to build stronger communities, including the Staples Motley Area Community Foundation.

During Gaalswyk’s tenure, the Foundation’s assets have grown to more than $62 million. In addition, the Foundation has invested $80 million in the region through targeted grants and business financing investments, creating and retaining nearly 13,000 jobs while leveraging $300 million-plus in private investment-all aimed at improving the 14 counties of Central Minnesota. 

“We deeply appreciate Kathy’s decades of commitment and contribution to Central Minnesota,” said Larry Korf, chair of the Initiative Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “Her leadership has allowed us to provide critical support for businesses and nonprofits and to create and retain vital jobs in the region, all while growing the Foundation’s assets and leveraging private investment.”

Said Gaalswyk, “It has been an absolute honor to serve in this role since the inception of the organization 30 years ago. I am deeply indebted to the dozens of people who have helped lead the Foundation as trustees and staff and to the thousands of community leaders who have leveraged the Foundation’s programs to improve their hometowns and the lives of our region’s residents.

“My husband Neal and I look forward to focusing on our grandchildren and increasing our mission activity in Central and Eastern Europe. I will also continue my work as a Doula (birth coach) and in other community activities in the Brainerd lakes area.” 

Formed in 1986 by a partnership of regional leaders and Twin Cities-based The McKnight Foundation, the Initiative Foundation is one of six Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIFs) serving Greater Minnesota. 

Neal Cuthbert, McKnight’s vice president of program, believes the Minnesota Initiative Foundations played a pivotal role in helping to buffer Greater Minnesota against the 2008 economic downturn.

“If you look at the most recent recession, rural Minnesota did better than the metro by nearly all measures,” he said. “That’s what the MIFs have been working on for 30 years, and I believe they deserve real credit for creating a more resilient Greater Minnesota.” 

For Gaalswyk, being part of the design and launch of the Minnesota Initiative Foundations was one of the most rewarding aspects of her career. And she feels good about the pioneering spirit among the MIFs, which led them to one of their earliest and most enduring innovations: providing gap financing to small businesses and start-ups that couldn’t qualify for traditional bank loans. 

To date, the six foundations have provided more than $240 million in business financing to 4,500 companies across Greater Minnesota. The combined lending activity has leveraged $1.3 billion in private investment while securing 45,000 jobs.

“I remain fully committed to the Initiative Foundation until my departure, working with board and staff to advance the new strategic plan, securing key revenue streams and maintaining strong relationships with myriad key partners,” Gaalswyk said.

The Initiative Foundation Board of Trustees has selected Ballinger Leafblad to guide the search process for a new president. Details will be posted on the Foundation’s website,

About the Initiative Foundation

Celebrating its 30-year anniversary in 2016, the Initiative Foundation exists to improve the quality of life and to build stronger communities within its 14-county region of Central Minnesota by offering business financing, technical assistance, nonprofit grants, donor services and leadership training.


Staples World

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 100 Staples, MN 56479 Telephone: (218) 894-1112 - Fax: (218) 894-3570 Toll Free: 1-888-894-1112 E Mail:

Sign Up For Breaking News

Stay informed on our latest news!

Manage my subscriptions

Subscribe to Breaking News feed