Karen Minkel resigns from Walton Family Foundation

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 3,987 views 

Karen Minkel has resigned from one of Arkansas’ most influential philanthropic groups: the Walton Family Foundation.

Minkel, formerly the foundation’s Home Region Program director, confirmed to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal her last day was April 2.

“After an amazing nine years, I decided to take some time for reflection and to explore other opportunities,” Minkel wrote in an email.

Emma Pengelly, a deputy director in the Home Region Program, is filling the director’s role on an interim basis. The foundation is seeking applicants to take the director’s job on a permanent basis. Boston-based Koya Partners, a national executive search firm with an exclusive focus on recruiting CEOs and senior leaders to mission driven roles, is directing the process.

In a job description, the foundation says an ideal candidate would be a trusted advisor, strong relationship-builder, ambassador and a visionary leader.

The foundation said a direct connection to Northwest Arkansas would be considered a plus but is not a requirement.

“Over the past six years, Karen provided incredible leadership as she spearheaded our efforts to help support a thriving and inclusive Home Region,” Caryl Stern, the foundation’s executive director, said in a statement. “By working closely with community partners, she saw Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta connected by the Razorback Greenway and the Delta Heritage Trail; facilitated a blueprint for vibrant public spaces with the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program; helped increase access to high-quality education; and fostered opportunities for creatives and entrepreneurs—accomplishments we plan to build on as we tackle our new strategic plan.”

Minkel joined the foundation in 2012 as a senior research officer, providing analysis and evaluation of grants. The foundation promoted her to Home Region Program director in March 2015, when Rob Brothers retired.

Before joining the foundation, Minkel worked for seven years in urban planning, three of those as director of strategic planning for the city of Fayetteville. She also spent time as a classroom teacher in New York City Public Schools as a Teach for America corps member.

Minkel, a member of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s 2013 Forty Under 40 class, received her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and her master’s degree in public policy from the University of California at Berkley.

Minkel’s work directing the foundation’s Home Region Program focuses on quality of life initiatives in Northwest Arkansas, as well as the Delta Region of Arkansas and Mississippi.

One of the more high-profile components of that effort in Northwest Arkansas is the foundation’s Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program. It was launched in 2015 and the projects are in the downtowns of the five largest cities in Benton and Washington counties.

“The intent was to elevate the design of public buildings and spaces,” Minkel told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal late last year. “The program has been incredibly successful in adding to our vibrant public buildings and spaces. They have created places for community connection, and they’ve managed to balance authenticity with world-class design.”

The Home Region Program has an annual grant budget of approximately $50 million. It is one of three, longstanding programmatic areas the foundation supports — protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and improving K-12 education are the others. In February, the foundation said it planned more than $2 billion in philanthropic support over the next five years to support those initiatives.

The Walton Family Foundation was created in 1987 and is led by the family of Walmart Inc. founders Sam and Helen Walton. Annie Proietti, who is one of their granddaughters, chairs the board of directors. The Walton’s youngest son, Jim Walton, is Proietti’s father.

The foundation awarded more than $525 million in grants in 2019. It has more than 100 employees working from Bentonville (headquarters), Washington, D.C., Jersey City, N.J. and Denver.