10 Questions or Less for Joanne Kelley


10 Questions or Less is a feature here on the Forum’s Forum in which we get to know regional association staff members a little better—their work, what drives them, and more. This week,  Joanne Kelley, Executive Director of Colorado Association of FundersIf you would like to suggest someone for a profile through 10 Questions or Less, contact Dan Brady.

You recently hosted the Forum’s annual conference in Denver. What did that entail? How did it feel to have all the regionals in your hometown?

We were really excited to have everyone here and it also offered an opportunity to explain the value of the Forum network to our board and members. It was also great working with the planning committee to shape the content of the conference. The Forum staff really does the heavy lifting and did a stellar job of choosing a hotel in a prime location. We enjoyed brainstorming with our members to come up with some fun activities that helped showcase Denver and its cultural attractions. We discovered that it helps to have a brewing company as a corporate member when it comes time to finding a good place to hold a sponsored reception!

During the conference, you were part of a panel led by Mark Sedway about articulating your RA’s value proposition. Can you share a little bit of your story here for those who couldn’t attend?

We needed to do several things before we even tried to sum up our value proposition. While we’ve existed for decades to bring funders together, we’ve only recently become more extroverted. Much of our work now focuses on ensuring that the outside world understands the reach and impact of the sector. We’ve also been collaborating to offer forums that bring together funders and nonprofits with the aim of encouraging dialogue and demystifying grantmaking. And we’re still doing the traditional work of organizing programs and peer groups and initiating research projects on giving trends. Before we tried to articulate why all this matters, we needed to survey and speak with our members and develop a strategic roadmap that incorporated these new areas. We also needed a new brand and look and logo that reflected where we were going. Then we developed a piece that attempted to explain what we do. Since then, I’ve become interested in the concept of determining the actual return on investment (in dollars) of belonging to our association. Stay tuned.

In your role as Executive Director of Colorado Association of Funders (CAF), how does the Forum network contribute to your work?

I can’t say enough about how valuable it is to have dozens of smart, thoughtful people out there who have been doing this same work far longer and so well. I was fortunate to be able to attend the Santa Fe annual conference just before I started in my new role two years ago so I felt part of the network from the start. Knowing I can pick up the phone or send an email query to my colleagues or the Forum staff – and actually doing that often – is invaluable. I also get lots of ideas and practical information from the annual conference, conference calls, and from keeping in touch with the programs and communications tools that the Forum and other regional associations are offering.

Walk us through a typical day in the office.

Fortunately, there isn’t a typical one and if I’m out at events or meetings or visiting members I sometimes don’t get to the office at all. With only two of us working full time, we tend to have all our “staff meetings” standing up – usually at Abel’s desk. When I do get to my actual office, I do the same thing that everyone else does: read the email I couldn’t read at the stoplights coming in and check the voicemail that has accumulated since the last time I checked. I make an effort to read the newspaper too. Having spent my life in journalism, I seem to thrive on every day being different. Even though this work sometimes seems to pull us in every direction at once, I think I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Is there anything you’re working on now that is particularly exciting?

Our member programs continue to improve and we’re increasingly trying to have some of them serve a dual purpose (bringing together all the Governor’s new cabinet members with our members, inviting policymakers and congressional staff to attend, having the Governor and new Denver Mayor address members about key issues). Trying to balance all that with our new outreach work has been a good challenge. We’re putting together a plan to have our members visit the State Capitol armed with data and stories organized by House and Senate districts. Our CAF Fellow working in the Governor’s office to build connections with funders is also helping us take outreach to the local level by working on a strategy for engaging county commissioners across the state and we’re involved in a plan to pull together conversations with funders and public officials based in rural areas.

What would you say is CAF’s most popular member program?

The monthly educational program series attracts the most people but our Leadership Forum for CEOs has been a big success (especially when we hold it with the Governor at his residence) as has a new group organized by foundation executive admin staff that meets several times a year and exchanges information and advice on everything from emerging technologies to how to prepare board meeting and orientation materials. I’d also say that serving on our board has become increasingly popular (with many of our widely respected CEOs and other leaders) now that we’re doing more.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The opportunity to be involved in the growth of our organization (both in our expanded reach and focus and an increase in our membership) and to work with so many great people including our associate director Abel Wurmnest. Our members have been extremely generous with their continued financial support because they value the work we’re doing. We have members with all sorts of diverse missions but we’re coming together on behalf of philanthropy, the broader nonprofit sector and ultimately the people who live in Colorado.

Outside of work, what are you passionate about?

I love living in Colorado. Like a lot of others here, I’ve recently become obsessed (yet again) with fitness and making time for that kind of work-life balance at least six days a week. I think it really contributes to a positive attitude that affects everything in life. I live in the mountains so I’m also an avid hiker and love climbing the 14,000 foot peaks when I can. This photo was taken last year when I took my son to the top of the first “14er” I “summitted” when we moved here from Washington, DC, about 14 years ago.

Anything else we should know?

I have a husband (who is a fabulous cook!) and two awesome kids who are extremely supportive and keep me on my toes. I also had the amazing chance to donate bone marrow and actually save my brother Tom’s life last year. It has provided some good fodder for our Colorado Giving Voice blog and has made me realize that everyone is capable of being a philanthropist in one way or another.

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