By the end of 2008, I had served as director of evaluation at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for seven years. I was proud of the work our staff was doing to learn about the impact of the foundation’s investments. However, I was concerned that our learnings, and those of other foundations, were not being shared and there was a compelling opportunity to promote building knowledge across the field.
That concern inspired me to establish the nation’s first peer-reviewed journal of philanthropy, The Foundation Review. The Johnson Center, with its national reputation in grantmaker education, provided a perfect home. I joined the center part-time to launch the journal in 2009. Over the ensuing years, drawn in by the work, I took on additional roles — senior researcher, director of special projects, director of the Institute for Foundation and Donor Learning, and finally, in 2018, executive director.
As a university-based applied research center on philanthropy, the Johnson Center’s mission is to understand, strengthen, and advance philanthropy in the service of building strong, inclusive communities. This organization is dedicated to bridging the gap between the information philanthropy needs and the change we want to make.
I joined the Johnson Center to be a part of that mission.
Today, nearly 14 years later, it is with a sense of great optimism that I share with you that I will retire as executive director of the Johnson Center in 2022.
The Foundation Review now reaches a global audience of practitioners and scholars — articles and issues are downloaded 5,000+ times per month. We developed the first-ever competency model for foundation program officers and created new models for inclusive nonprofit leadership. Our courses and workshops for sector professionals are designed to help build these competencies and attract practitioners nationwide. Our strategic collaborations with many of the world’s largest foundations have led to groundbreaking research studies and resources for the field, such as a guide for leaders of limited-life foundations, guidance for managing giving circles, and many others. Our 11 Trends in Philanthropy report reaches tens of thousands of readers every year.
I am committed to staying with the Johnson Center as we conduct a national search for a new executive director. While I will retire from official responsibilities as head of the Johnson Center, there are several ongoing projects and collaborations that I will continue to be involved with in order to conduct a smooth transition to alternative leadership. I will remain editor-in-chief of The Foundation Review until a new editor can be identified.
I feel great pride and confidence in what the Johnson Center team has accomplished in the last four years. We have shared the same challenges that so many of our colleagues in philanthropy have faced: fear, urgency, uncertainty. But also, determination, innovation, and a conviction that our mission to ultimately support strong, inclusive communities can and does sustain us in the hardest of times.
Today, we have a talented and collaborative staff — and we’re looking forward to onboarding several new positions in the next few weeks. I have the utmost confidence in them and in the team of directors who lead our strategy and work.
Our success is backed by a network of extraordinary partners in Michigan and beyond. The leaders of the other major infrastructure organizations in Michigan — the Council of Michigan Foundations, Michigan Nonprofit Association, Michigan Community Service Commission, and Michigan Association of United Ways, among many others, have been friends and thought partners.
I am truly grateful to the members of the Johnson Center’s leadership council, including our esteemed co-chairs Kate Pew Wolters and David Egner, for their energy, creativity, and belief in our mission. Our namesake, Dottie Johnson, has been an inspiration and guide.
There are countless others I should name here for their impact on my personal and professional journey and their ongoing support for the Johnson Center. Instead, I will simply say “thank you” to everyone I have had the privilege of working and partnering with — you are remembered and appreciated.
The leadership of Grand Valley State University is committed to conducting an equitable and robust national search to identify a new executive director. With a solid strategic framework, clear roadmap, and supportive team, that leader will take the Johnson Center into its next chapter. That search will begin this spring, and we welcome your ideas and recommendations. Look for more information soon.
For myself, I look forward to pursuing my great love of cycling and traveling with my husband in the near future.