Young alumna makes planned gift to Grinnell before her 10th reunion

May 1, 2020 — It didn’t quite seem right to Kelsey Picken ’10 that she was having conversations with people about making planned gifts without having set up one herself.

Kelsey Picken '10
   Kelsey Picken ’10

As senior director of planned giving for the City of Hope, a comprehensive cancer center in Duarte, California, Picken is aware of all different types of planned giving vehicles. She recently chose to make Grinnell College one of the beneficiaries of her IRA. At age 32, she is one of the youngest alums to ever set up an unrestricted bequest.

“I knew for a while that I would eventually make a planned gift,” Picken says. “I got to the point where I went ahead and made Grinnell and another institution the beneficiaries. I assume it will grow over time to make a greater impact. But just in case something happens to me now, then I know that Grinnell is already going to be accounted for.”

Picken spent her early years in Crystal Lake, just outside of Chicago. Her family moved to Switzerland for seven years while Picken was in middle school and high school. She wanted to return to the U.S. for college, though her initial thoughts centered around attending a large school on the East Coast. She visited a few but wasn’t feeling it.

“My mom pushed Grinnell,” Picken said. “I was reluctant because the size and location were underwhelming at first. Then we visited in the summer and there weren’t many students around. But I knew immediately that it was home. I applied early decision and never ended up applying anywhere else. It worked out really well.”

Picken studied history and psychology at Grinnell.

“I took a psychology class with Dr. (David) Lopatto and my mind was blown, so I declared immediately,” she says. “I also took a history class and the content was interesting. Professor Sarah Purcell ended up being my senior advisor and definitely left a mark on research and writing for me.”

As a student, Picken completed an internship at the Grinnell Historical Museum that was funded through a stipend from Life Trustee Bob Musser ’62. Picken recalls a meeting with Musser at Spencer Grill.

“It was a little strange at the time because I was so shy and didn’t really understand, but I look back and realize how special and important that moment was,” she says.

Picken went on to earn a master’s degree in museum studies. Her development work started in a student position at Claremont Graduate University. She later became director of membership and annual giving at the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and then took a position as assistant director of gift and estate planning at Occidental College. She’s been working with the City of Hope for about a year.

“When I started in development I expected my favorite thing to be the office work,” she says. “But in reality it’s the opportunity to meet people. It’s interesting to learn why they give and why they are connected to the institution, and to see the impact of the people touched by the different forms of giving.”

While Picken says it’s understandable that people in their 30s tend to be more focused on careers and family than planned giving to an institution, it doesn’t hurt for anyone to consider making plans.

“The path I went down for my gift might not be for everyone, but it’s worth having plans in place in case something happens unexpectedly,” she says. “IRA designations are the easiest things to do. An attorney isn’t needed.”

Picken played on three conference winning tennis teams at Grinnell and was captain her senior year. She remains close with her teammates.

“The best thing about playing tennis was the people,” Picken says. “Considering all the practices, traveling and meals, I spent more time with them than my roommates and friends and remain close with them today..”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

To learn more about options for planned gifts, contact Buddy Boulton, Grinnell College director of planned giving, at or 641-269-3248.

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