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With New Roles, McKnight Program Team Members Sharpen Opportunities for Impact

Ben Goldfarb, Sarah Christiansen, Ben Passer

Foundation announces that (from left to right) Ben Goldfarb and Sarah Christiansen assume new roles to amplify impact across McKnight’s programs, as Ben Passer is promoted to Midwest Climate & Energy program director.

At McKnight, we seek to advance a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. In advancing our mission and across all levels of the Foundation, McKnight focuses on climate action and racial equity, which our board and staff first named as the organization’s twin imperatives in 2019. Now we are working to sharpen our impact at the nexus of racial equity and climate action to reach what we call our “highest expression of mission” as a Foundation.

Today, we are excited to announce two colleagues are assuming positions within the Foundation to enhance our ability to deliver on our highest expression of mission, particularly as our work and the opportunities before us become more connected and ambitious. Reporting to the vice president of programs, these roles will bolster the work of our program teams and connect more powerfully within and beyond our walls to people and places where McKnight can be in partnership to move our highest expression of mission forward. They will help strengthen and expand alignment and collaboration across McKnight’s programs, develop new strategic partnerships, and foster connection and cooperation with partners externally to drive a deeper impact, particularly at the nexus of climate change and racial equity.

Ben Goldfarb, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Democracy, Media, and Policy

Ben Goldfarb joined McKnight in 2022 as its inaugural director of program alignment. In this new role as director of strategic initiatives for democracy, media, and policy, he will continue to advance programmatic alignment while also bringing a focus on specific bodies of work that help support and are critical to the success of overall programmatic strategies. This includes core efforts to strengthen democratic participation, bolster journalism and local news and information ecosystems, and advance public policy that connects and amplifies the goals of McKnight’s programs. Joining Ben in this effort will be program officer Tim Murphy, who now leads McKnight’s media grantmaking and involvement in Press Forward, and Liz Olson, who was recently announced as our new senior program officer focused on strengthening democratic participation.

Ben is a seasoned nonprofit executive, campaign manager, organizer, trainer, and facilitator, with more than two decades of experience building leadership, organizations, and movements for economic and racial justice. Most recently Ben was a partner at The Management Center, where he coached executive directors and senior leaders of national and state-based justice organizations to be more equitable, sustainable, and results-oriented, and helped to navigate nonprofit executive transitions involving new BIPOC leaders. Ben also served as a strategy consultant to organizations, campaigns, and foundations. Notably, Ben co-founded the Rural Democracy Initiative, a funder collaborative supporting multiracial civic engagement in rural and small city America and efforts to bridge the urban-rural divide. Read more about his background here.

Sarah Christiansen, Director of Strategic Climate Initiatives

Sarah Christiansen joined McKnight in 2021 as McKnight’s Midwest Climate & Energy program director. In this new role as director of strategic climate initiatives Sarah will help weave, connect, and elevate climate as a priority throughline across all of McKnight’s programs, including the Global Collaboration for Resilient Food Systems, Midwest Climate & Energy, Arts & Culture, and Vibrant & Equitable Communities to achieve greater collective influence and impact.

At a time of unprecedented in climate implementation, Sarah will harness the full scope of McKnight’s resources and breadth and connectivity of its programs toward expanding and accelerating federal climate implementation. To do this, Sarah will engage and collaborate with peer funders and partners with a goal of maximizing the unique role of the Midwest as America’s heartland of climate action and a global hub for equitable climate innovation and progress. Sarah will help magnify McKnight’s presence in key climate leadership venues with a focus on building and strengthening strategic partnerships. Sarah brings to the new role decades of experience as a national and global leader with demonstrated success connecting people and organizations across sectors to achieve powerful outcomes for our planet. In this new role, Sarah will harness these skills to enable McKnight to be a more effective partner, advocate, and leader in the field.

Sarah steps into this new role after having built a successful foundation for the Midwest Climate & Energy program. She joined McKnight at a time when the Foundation had doubled its grantmaking budget for climate. Her leadership helped center the importance of an equitable clean energy transition in the program, and she built a team comprised of strong leaders with diverse experiences and backgrounds who are prepared to move forward powerfully at this critical moment for climate implementation and action.

With a career that spans more than 30 years, Sarah is a seasoned philanthropic leader dedicated to finding multiple pathways toward achieving an equitable and carbon-neutral economy. Since 2021, she has worked closely with McKnight board members, senior leaders, and the MC&E team to use every philanthropic tool available to reduce carbon pollution in the transportation, buildings, power, and agricultural sectors. Sarah has experience with a range of climate strategies, from place-based approaches to global solutions, as well as a focus on the nexus of climate change, equity, and democracy, helping to drive strategies and connections across sectors. Read more about her background here.

Ben Passer, Program Director, Midwest Climate & Energy

With Sarah’s transition to focus on  across McKnight’s bodies of climate work, we are thrilled to announce that Ben Passer has been promoted to program director for the Midwest Climate & Energy (Climate) program. Ben will direct overall efforts for the Climate program, managing a team that deploys $32 million in grants annually to partners advancing strategies focused on transforming the energy system, decarbonizing transportation and buildings, supporting working lands, and strengthening democratic participation.

Ben is an experienced climate leader with a strong record working across philanthropy, advocacy, and the public sector. Since joining McKnight in September 2021 as a senior program officer in the Climate program, Ben has provided critical leadership across the Foundation and the philanthropic sector. He developed and managed significant, proven grant portfolios related to the Climate program’s Transform the Energy System and Decarbonize Buildings strategies that have supported diverse partners across the Midwest to deliver on powerful climate and equity goals.  Ben has shaped McKnight’s response to Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund implementation in the Midwest, and he has been a key architect of developing and launching McKnight’s inaugural Program Advisory Panels in collaboration with the Communities and Learning teams. Ben has also served in advisory roles for the Climate and Energy Funders Group, Environmental Grantmakers Association, The Funders Network, and peer funders.

Ben came to McKnight from Fresh Energy, bringing with him expertise working on issues related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and electrification, with an emphasis on their intersection with racial equity and environmental justice. At Fresh Energy, Ben directed energy advocacy work that bridged across stakeholders to secure regulatory results at the Public Utilities Commission and policy change at the Minnesota State Capitol. He also spearheaded the creation and growth of the organization’s Energy Access and Equity program, and led the organization’s diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism initiatives. A licensed attorney and member of the Minnesota Bar, Ben holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Minnesota and a juris doctor from William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline School of Law). Read more about his background here.

“McKnight has a strong group of dedicated, passionate, and caring team members working to advance our program strategies alongside our incredible partners. I know Ben Goldfarb, Sarah Christiansen, and Ben Passer will make us even more connected and effective as we move forward ambitious priorities that benefit both people and our planet.”– NEERAJ MEHTA, VICE PRESIDENT OF PROGRAMS

Please join us in congratulating Ben Goldfarb, Sarah Christiansen, and Ben Passer on these new roles and well-deserved advancements within the Foundation!

About the McKnight Foundation: The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, advances a more just, creative, and abundant future where people and planet thrive. Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts and culture in Minnesota, neuroscience, and global food systems.

Topic: General, Midwest Climate & Energy

July 2024