Young alumnus helping millennials to make giving a habit

Apr. 2, 2019Joel Pollick ’13 always is on the move with running a nonprofit startup, playing basketball and soccer, trying his hand at woodworking, and spending time with loved ones.

Basketball, in fact, was one three things that brought Pollick to Grinnell College, along with academics and a location quite unlike Boston, where he grew up.

Joel Pollick ’13
    Joel Pollick ’13

“I was recruited to play basketball, and as a left-handed shooter, Grinnell’s program seemed like a dream come true,” he says. “Candidly, I wanted to use basketball to get into a better academic school then I may have otherwise gotten into, so being able to play ball and get an amazing education made Grinnell stick out.”

Spending four years at the College introduced him to diverse ideas and people, which shaped how Pollick thought about social equity, gender and racial equality, and an array of social issues.

In 2017, Pollick founded Percent Pledge, a Chicago-based nonprofit startup, which makes it easy for young professionals to donate a small percent of their monthly take-home or budget – a “percent pledge” – to their favorite causes. Donors choose from various vetted Cause Portfolios and are delivered ongoing transparency into their giving through personalized bi-weekly impact reports.

Pollick says the idea stemmed from his father who taught him the importance of giving back when he was a kid.

“Luckily, I grew up in a family that taught me to lean into difference,” he says. “So when I came to Grinnell, I strived to learn about as many diverse people, viewpoints, and experiences as possible, which has certainly helped me shape how to steer Percent Pledge.”

Pollick says he already knew that he wanted a career in business, so he majored in economics at Grinnell. Courses taught by John Mutti, the Sidney Meyer Professor of International Economics, and Keith Brouhle ‘96, associate professor of economics, helped him contextualize material in different ways and laid the foundation for his business sense.

“Grinnell taught me how to think, and how to solve problems, as opposed to what to think or tools for thinking,” Pollick says. “I had a lot of friends that went to state schools or larger universities and they came out knowing Excel better than me but lacked the foundation to be lifelong learners and adaptable problem solvers. And being an entrepreneur now, I can safely say I wouldn’t have been able to make Percent Pledge what it is today, or even launch it, without that liberal arts foundation Grinnell provided me.”

Pollick says building a startup has been a daunting experience for someone in their 20s but it is very rewarding. He says anyone interested in doing the same should not be afraid to ask for help.

“There's three buckets as I’ve come to see it,” he says. “Stuff I know, stuff I know I don’t know, and stuff I don’t even know that I don’t know. And when you realize that buckets two and three are bigger than bucket one – and that this is true for most people and organizations – then it gets easier, and a lot of the stress and fear of failure goes away.”

Although learning the ins and outs of running a startup takes a lot of time, he still manages to lace up his sneakers to shoot hoops now and again. His favorite part of playing basketball at Grinnell was being with his teammates. 

“I'm still connected with most of them today,” he says. “Many from my year are still close friends, and they are kind of a microcosm for the culture shock in coming to Grinnell from Boston. All of them were very different from me, but we were able to initially bond through basketball as the common denominator and then have deep, rich friendships that grew from there and actually fed off our very unique backgrounds. I approached everything about Grinnell with an open mind, and I think that approach served me well.”

—by Lisa Shapiro

For your information:

To learn more about Grinnell’s economics program, visit the department’s web pages. Grinnell’s men’s basketball news can found on the Pioneer Athletics site.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.