How long have you been at the community foundation? I joined the foundation in 1986. Before that, I had a consulting business focused on database decision-making and geographic information systems; the foundation was my first client. When the board chair called to see if I was interested in leading the foundation, I leaped at the chance. It was the best career choice I ever made.
How has your work changed over the past several years? During my time at the foundation, our community has been changing at a rapid pace. This is particularly true for the business sector, which has been affected by our evolving global economy – with companies being sold or merged or going out of business. The ways businesses invest in the community has changed, as have the people involved in community decision making. The role of the community foundation has had to evolve as well. We have had to expand beyond simple grantmaking and encouraging philanthropy.
You’ve been part of our Fund since the beginning, right? Yes, it was serendipitous that the Fund formed at the same time Lorain County was going through so many changes. Our initial grant to the Fund was a pretty big departure, because economic development had never been part of our agenda. Although the community foundation is not an economic development organization, we do have a role to play in this work. We view the Fund as a partner, not just a grantee. Together, we work for the betterment of Lorain County and Northeast Ohio.
Why did it make sense for a community foundation focused on Lorain County to support the Fund, which has a regional focus? At the beginning, my board wondered what Lorain County would get out of our Fund membership. Now we know that Fund membership amplifies our philanthropic voice; we get back 8-fold what we put into the Fund. My board members take great pride in being part of the Fund. They tell me Fund membership is the most important thing the foundation has ever done.
How has the Fund benefitted your foundation? Fund membership helped us develop bench strength in Lorain County. More people developed expertise in economic development and got involved in regional work. Fund membership also gave us the ability to help shape regional strategy. Being part of the regional conversation translated into work on the local level: we joined together within the county to work on our own economic competitiveness strategy. This might not have happened without the regional conversation. If the region was getting its act together, we needed to get our act together, too.
How have you personally benefitted from being part of our Fund? I have a team now that I never knew existed. Before, I knew people in philanthropy, but we didn’t have a connection. Fund members are the most important part of this organization, and the relationship goes well beyond the work the Fund does. I can contact my Fund peers on any issue and I know the response will be authentic, honest and caring.
What are you most proud of accomplishing at the foundation? Our organization has evolved from a very traditional bank-like structure into one focused on a mission of “connecting people who care with causes that matter.” It can be hard for a community foundation to know how, when and why to get involved in community issues. I’ve learned that we do not always need to be neutral, but should always be objective. I am very proud of our sophisticated organization, my talented staff, and the strong culture of a board that’s willing to “kick the tires” to see what needs to be done. The foundation is a vital and vibrant part of our community.