Paula Van Ness, president and CEO of Connecticut Community Foundation, has announced her retirement after six years at the helm of the oldest community foundation in the state, which serves 21 towns in Greater Waterbury and the Litchfield Hills. She is only the second person to head the Foundation in its 94-year history, and will step down at the end of 2017.
Van Ness said, “It has been deeply rewarding to help build this permanent source of philanthropy that will benefit our area for many generations to come. It’s a good time for somebody else to generate fresh ideas that will bring the community foundation to the next level. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished and see a very bright future ahead for Connecticut Community Foundation.”
During Van Ness’s tenure, the Foundation has refined its strategic direction, and communities in Greater Waterbury and the Litchfield Hills have reaped the benefits in meaningful and tangible ways. Under her leadership, the Foundation’s accomplishments include:
- Launching Give Local Greater Waterbury and Litchfield Hills, an annual community-wide online give-a-thon that unites a generous community in raising essential dollars for the vital work of local nonprofits. In five years, Give Local events have raised $4.5 million for hundreds of nonprofits serving residents of the region, bolstering their ability to deliver on their missions and provide services in the face of persistent budget shortfalls statewide.
- Starting the Western Connecticut Leadership (WCL) program that helps seasoned and accomplished professionals learn more about community needs and assets, gaining the knowledge and skills needed to help meet the needs of local nonprofits. Described by one WCL alumna as “a college course in my community,” the leadership program aims to “match need with know-how” through an intensive eight-week program that, to date, has 85 graduates. Many have gone on to lend their time and talents to organizations in the region that they learned about during the program.
- Strengthening the nonprofit organizations serving Greater Waterbury and the Litchfield Hills by updating grantmaking policies and streamlining online applications to make the process more user-friendly, adding new “backbone” and general operating support grants to give organizations more flexible funds with which to advance their missions, and adding more focused organizational development training programs and coaching to nonprofit leaders through the Foundation’s organizational development work.
- Improving the sustainability of funds that can flow back to the community for years to come, by growing the Foundation’s assets from $70 million to $99 million through sound financial stewardship practices and beneficial relationships with donors and their financial advisors.
- Reorienting the Foundation’s 24-year-old Women’s Fund to be more proactive in its grantmaking to area nonprofits, to focus on programs fostering self-esteem and resilience among girls and young women, and to encourage collaboration among organizations serving girls and women throughout the region.
- Increasing the dollars given to nonprofits through the Foundation’s grantmaking in areas identified as priorities for local communities, including economic development, environment, early education, health, arts, older adults, technology, scholarships and leadership development. During Van Ness’s tenure, the Foundation’s grants to community organizations and scholarships have totaled $20 million.
Martha Bernstein, chair of Connecticut Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees, said, “All of us at Connecticut Community Foundation are grateful for Paula’s dynamic leadership and commitment to our mission. We look to the future with optimism and excitement as we build on her many successes. Our region is better and stronger thanks to Paula.”
In her retirement, Van Ness plans to return to her Tucson, Arizona roots where she enjoys a strong relationship with the area’s community foundation.
She said, “I have loved this job and the fantastic volunteers and staff I work with but I have a long bucket list of places to go and causes that I want to support that are beckoning for my time and attention.”
The Foundation’s Board of Trustees has formed a transition committee, chaired by former board chair Jack Baker, to lead the selection process for their next president and CEO. They’ve retained an executive transition search firm to assist them. Plans are well underway to solicit community input on leadership needs and expectations for the position.