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The Nature of Giving

Fundholder Melanie Kleiss wants to preserve Minnesota land and wildlife

Melanie Kleiss loves nature.

Her passion for the environment dates back to her years as a young girl growing up in Saint Paul and its surrounding suburbs. She can still remember what it was like the day nature sparked her interest.

“When I was a kid, and we first moved to Minnesota, we lived in a little apartment in Maplewood,” said Melanie. “My parents did not have very much money at that time so cash was always tight, but one day a Greenpeace advocate came and knocked on our door. My mom answered the door, and she listened to them talk about whales and the environment. She gave them $50. I think I was in third grade, and it just blew me away. It had to be really important because we didn’t have much money. I was an environmentalist from that day on.”

Since college, Melanie has been donating to environmental organizations, causes and issues she cares about: Urban Roots, American Indian Family Center, Historic Saint Paul, Trust for Public Land, East Side Area Business Association, Mississippi Park Connection and Friends of the Mississippi River, to name a few.

Love of Nature Guides Giving and Career Path

In an effort to amplify her giving, the mother of two set up a donor advised fund with the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation in 2016. She had just sold a business, and her fund provided her family with financial and charitable benefits.

Like her mother, Melanie wants to inspire her kids to give back. Even though they are seven and nine, Melanie is looking for ways to cultivate this next generation of donors.

In addition to her philanthropic goals, her love of wildlife and nature has shaped every position she has had along her career path, including her work as an environmental lawyer and most recently as full-time executive director of the Lower Phalen Creek Project (LPCP).

In her role, she worked to help preserve the areas around Phalen Creek, making them spaces for Saint Paul Eastside residents to enjoy. These spaces include the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary and the Wakan Tipi Center, a place dedicated to highlighting the area’s natural and cultural history of Minnesota’s with particular focus on Dakota people.

“In the last three years my job was primarily about building this organization up so that the future Wakan Tipi Center at the sanctuary could become a reality,” Melanie said. “Many passionate people and organizations are helping with this. LPCP now has over half of the funds raised to build the center. A lot of great partner organizations have signed on to be part of that and help bring Phalen Creek back above ground.”

In January 2019, she stepped down from her position as executive director to help her family. Despite the role change, Melanie continues to help out with the Phalen Creek Project as a volunteer. Like many others, she strongly supports LPCP’s mission to engage people in honoring and caring for our natural places and sacred sites, and the cultural value within them.

Through her donor advised fund, Melanie continues to give back to nature, through contributions to the Lower Phalen Creek Project, as well as the St. Croix River Association, and Friends of Wacouta Commons. With help from Foundation staff and events, she has had the opportunity to meet other donors and learn about other organizations that continue to spark her generosity.

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