Fresh Spotlight: Meet the Development team

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Fresh Energy has been speeding Minnesota’s transition to a carbon-free economy for over 30 years, and our important policy work wouldn’t be possible without the meaningful support of our generous donors and foundation funders. Fresh Energy’s Development team works behind-the-scenes to build personal relationships with our supporters and help them align their passions with their philanthropic giving. Together, our donors and the Development team play a crucial role in helping Fresh Energy’s team of technical experts, attorneys, and advocates build a carbon-free Minnesota.

Vital relationships with donors to make our vision possible

Fresh Energy’s Development team is comprised of Executive Lead, Philanthropy Julia Olmstead; Senior Director, Individual Giving Meggie LaValley; Senior Development Manager Leigh Onkka; and Senior Development Associate Jillian Theuer. Together, the team plays a pivotal role in Fresh Energy’s success advancing meaningful policies in Minnesota by forging impactful relationships with our generous donors that support our passionate staff in their bold, ambitious climate policy work, ultimately creating positive change in our shared future.

Meet Julia, executive lead, philanthropy

Julia Olmstead Photo/Fresh Energy.

Julia has always identified as an environmentalist, but her first job out of college working at Annie’s Homegrown (“back when it was a company of 8 people – including Annie!”), an organic macaroni and cheese company, got her interested in the impacts of agriculture on the environment, including on the climate. “I became really interested in climate after getting a sense of agriculture’s land use impacts of the environment. We have to produce food to eat, and figuring out a way to do that without contributing to climate change will be one of our biggest challenges,” says Julia, who has worn many hats in agriculture, from researching perennial forage plant genetics to advocating for climate-friendly agricultural policy. “While working in agriculture, I really became enamored with the power of policy work, because it feels like the biggest lever you can pull for creating a better future.”

Today, Julia oversees Fresh Energy’s philanthropic work and collaborates with program staff to secure foundation support for Fresh Energy’s work. Climate work isn’t just her professional interest, however; like so many of us, mitigating climate change is extremely personal for Julia, too.

“This is the most important thing to be working on, as a mother. I think all the time about the future my kids will have as the effects of climate change worsen, and if they have children, what their future will be,” says Julia. “I feel like my children are relying on me to give this everything I’ve got.”

Meet Meggie, senior director, individual giving

Meggie LaValley Photo/Fresh Energy.

Meggie has long been leading donor engagement efforts and partner relations with Fresh Energy, and when asked what drew her to working in development, she’s quick to answer. “I love people, learning about them and talking with them. I believe each person is so unique and interesting, and I love to learn about what they care about and their passions,” Meggie says. “It’s a gift and a privilege to help our donors change the world.”

Meggie has worked in the field since 2008 and first began her career in development and fundraising after college at a nonprofit that focuses on enhancing the quality of life for elders in Seattle. She learned from a mentor the ins and outs of meeting with donors, understanding what their passions are, and helping them to support the causes they care so much about.

“I really feel like I’m helping people who want to make the world a better place and provide an avenue to make a difference,” Meggie says. “It’s really fulfilling to me to get to meet so many dedicated people and be a part of their giving journey.”

Meet Leigh, senior development manager

Leigh Onkka Photo/Fresh Energy.

Leigh worked at a variety of different nonprofit and private-sector workplaces before joining Fresh Energy, where she brings years of experience in member engagement, communications, event coordination, database management, and customer experience. Her job is to ensure that donors are heard when it comes to what they’d like to support and advance, she says. “Working with donors to understand their issues and support the important work the Fresh Energy team is doing is essential to being a productive organization,” says Leigh.

She also notes that while she’s had a variety of different jobs in her career, she’s always had a feeling of stewardship toward the environment after she began canoe camping in the Boundary Waters and Canada as a teenager.

“I went on these unforgettable trips up north and started to really develop an appreciation for the natural world and being a good steward of it,” says Leigh. “The summer of ‘99, I was canoeing north of the BWCA in the Canadian wilderness when the historic July 4th blowdown occurred. When we returned to our YMCA camp outside of Ely, Minnesota, we were shocked to see the impact of the storm, including the loss of many old-growth pine trees that lined the trails through camp. It really hit home that the places I love are always evolving, and while some changes are normal, climate change can accelerate them—and most often not for the better.”

Meet Jillian, senior development associate

Jillian Theuer Photo/Fresh Energy.

“I grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota that has windmills in the distance, and I think I’ve always had the sustainability mindset that we need to take care of our planet. That has always been a presence in my life,” says Jillian when asked about how she became interested in climate work. “As I saw what Fresh Energy was doing, I realized that addressing climate change is a lot more complex than sustainable actions like recycling or picking up trash—policy change is how this happens. That’s what we need to address climate change.”

Jillian handles a variety of responsibilities at Fresh Energy, from helping to coordinate events and donor mailings and managing our data system to support the policy staff’s efforts to decarbonize Minnesota. “It’s so important to ensure that donors are a part of Fresh Energy’s mission, staying up to date with our important work and how we are helping Fresh Energy build a cleaner future,” says Jillian. “I’ve loved being able to learn how we can better support the work that Fresh Energy is doing and communicating that progress with our donors.”

Growing up in rural Minnesota is something that still ties into Jillian’s work even though she now lives in the Metro. As Minnesota decarbonizes its electric sector, that’s brought new opportunities to farmers and rural communities across the state. “Working at a climate nonprofit, I feel like I’m always asking myself ‘how can rural Minnesota benefit from this, too?’” says Jillian. “Even though I live in the city now, growing up in a rural environment on a farm is something I still keep on the forefront of my mind.”

Making change possible

Every member of the Development team agrees that Fresh Energy couldn’t do its work without the support of its donors. From individuals and foundations that care about sustainability and climate change to clean energy industry employees and businesses that are helping to build a cleaner future, Fresh Energy is grateful to work with so many passionate supporters of our mission to create a carbon-free economy in Minnesota.

“My coworkers are super-smart rockstars out there trying to change the world every day, and our role is to provide the fundraising and support to do that,” says Meggie. “I am constantly blown away by the generosity of our donors and what they choose to put their funds, time, and energy toward. We’re truly so fortunate to have such a strong group of donors that care deeply about and support our mission.”

“Fresh Energy is only able to do the work we do through the support of individuals and foundations, and the Development team is at the core of ensuring Fresh Energy has the funding to exist,” Julia adds. “Our engine runs on donations, and we’re an ambitious, fast-growing nonprofit. Our program staff are some of the smartest and hardest-working people I’ve worked with that are effecting change not just in the long run, but in the short-term as well.” That requires a lot of effort, and that in turn requires support from our donors that care about our mission to decarbonize Minnesota.

None of Fresh Energy’s successes can happen without our supporters, and one of the key ways the Development team has garnered that support is by hosting its annual Benefit Breakfast every fall.

By gathering hundreds of people together, the team spotlights the important work of our policy staff, from equitably decarbonizing Minnesota’s electric grid and how we heat our buildings to removing carbon from our transportation, industry, and agriculture sectors.

“It’s so fun to bring together hundreds of like-minded people that all care about decarbonization to share the challenges we face and, most importantly, the progress we’re making,” says Meggie. “I’m really proud of how much the program has grown over the years.”

Jillian agrees that the Benefit Breakfast has become a popular, successful program to engage our donors and share the successes of the Fresh Energy team. “People really enjoy coming to the Benefit Breakfast, getting to see the highlights of the important work we do and meet our other supporters that are passionate about it too.”

“It was gratifying to hold the 2023 Benefit Breakfast in-person again for the first time since the start of the pandemic,” Leigh adds. “I’m so appreciative that we have such a strong base of supporters that have weathered uncertain times with us and help us continue to grow.”

“We can’t slow down”

The Development team’s priority has long been to ensure donors understand and feel like part of the accomplishments we’ve made in decarbonizing Minnesota. “We’re always trying to improve our work year after year and find new ways to engage our donors,” says Jillian. Fresh Energy has been a driving force in decarbonization for the past 30 years, from the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act that brought Minnesota to the forefront of the clean energy transition to more recent success like Minnesota’s 100% clean electricity law.

And Fresh Energy’s program staff is always looking for new avenues to drive progress—including scrutinizing the natural gas system, and ensuring equity is built into all of our work. “The thing that’s both most exciting and most challenging is figuring out how to raise funding at a pace that matches the ambition of our staff,” says Julia. “There’s no limit to what we can do if we have the funding for it.” Leigh agrees: “That’s always the biggest challenge—to grow that base of support to tackle the problems we need to.”

Moving forward, the Development team is confident they will continue to build strong relationships with individual donors and foundations that make Fresh Energy’s work possible. In Meggie’s words: “There’s so much work to be done to decarbonize Minnesota as rapidly as we need to, so we need more funding, now more than ever. We can’t slow down; we need to build on the momentum we’ve created.”

If you’d like to support Fresh Energy’s mission to create an equitable, just energy transition toward a carbon-free economy in Minnesota and beyond, contact Meggie LaValley at or 651 726 7561.