Community foundation president to step down

Rhoads led the organization through the creation of Give More 24!, COVID-19 relief fund


The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington will be on the search for new leadership as foundation president Jennifer Rhoads announced she will be leaving after nine years.

Rhoads first joined the foundation after working in finance in 2012. She started as the foundation’s vice president of development before becoming the president of the foundation in 2013. The foundation announced she will be leaving next year after her successor is put in place.

Rhoads said her departure fit her personal philosophy of letting organizations evolve.

“You don’t want to have that happen every two or three years in an organization, but I think seven to 10 years, I think it’s healthy,” Rhoads said. “It’s good to have a fresh set of eyes and new leadership for most organizations.”

Spending 15 years in financial planning and wealth management prior to coming to the community foundation, Rhoads said the opportunity was intriguing as a sort of reversal of her prior work.

“To really be focused on benefiting the community with donors, I thought that’s incredible,” Rhoads said.

During her tenure, Rhoads said she focused on the “community” aspect of being a community foundation. She said the foundation’s success requires positive working relationships with nonprofits while also listening to the community at large. 

“People living in our community, they know what’s best. They know what the challenges are and they always know what the solutions are. They just usually need some help getting it done,” Rhoads said.

Building those relationships is vital to her work at the foundation and she hopes that mission will remain after she’s gone.

“It’s not always about just granting money to nonprofits. It’s all the other things. It’s a productive partnership, it’s sitting down at the table with them and truly hearing where are they struggling, and are there other ways we could be helping them versus just giving money away,” Rhoads said. 

One of the foundation’s most noteworthy pushes during Rhoads’ tenure has been the Give More 24! event where nonprofits raise funds in a 24-hour period, by sometimes holding in-person or virtual fundraisers. The event launched in 2014 and during this year’s campaign, nonprofits were able to raise a record total of $3.3 million.

“Why we started it was really to help our nonprofits learn to raise money in different ways,” Rhoads said. 

The event served as a “capacity building” exercise for participating organizations, with the community foundation’s backing.

“We’re not responsible for raising all that money. It’s the couple hundred nonprofits that participate,” Rhoads said. “We provide the platform, we give them training opportunities, we do the large (day of) marketing, but really the success is all because of the nonprofits.” 

The foundation also played a role in the region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, forming the Southwest Washington COVID Response Fund, which raised close to $9 million. Rhoads said the effort was the first time the community foundation had to step up and help in a large-scale crisis.

“It may not have been a natural disaster, but it was a health disaster happening right in our own backyard,” Rhoads said. 

A committee was established for the fund, with most of the representation coming from community members outside of the fund, she said.

“Because of our long-term, trusted partnerships with our donors, they really stepped up to the plate,” Rhoads said. 

She said the fund was streamlined so they were able to distribute funds to nonprofits on a weekly basis.

Among the more tangible successes, Rhoads said the connections she made will stay with her after she leaves.

“Raising money is great, and giving money away is great, but I think having trusted one-on-one relationships with all different people in our community has been the most rewarding,” Rhoads said.

Community foundation board vice chair Kristy Weaver said Rhoads has an ability to handle situations with grace.

“When I think about Jennifer, I just think about the fact she really models the tenets of being a servant leader, where she’s really leading in order to improve the lives of not only our employees at the community foundation, but also the lives of our donors and the community at large,” Weaver said.

Weaver mentioned the speed at which the foundation was able to establish the COVID-19 relief fund, “all done with a very unflappable leader in Jennifer.”

“(Rhoads) just reacted to the needs of the community, went into action and made things happen,” Weaver said.

Weaver, who is part of the foundation’s search committee for Rhoads’ replacement, said alongside Rhoads’ example of servant leadership, the committee wants the new leader to maintain the foundation’s commitment to equity, which Rhoads espoused.

“We are living in a community where not everybody has an equal opportunity to succeed,” Rhoads said. “So what do we need to change or how can we help so that we all can.”

“I think that is going to be a guiding star for the foundation for a long time,” Rhoads said.

Rhoads will remain with the community foundation through the first quarter of 2022. For now, she is eyeing the chance to take a break from working full-time, noting she’s grown up in Clark County and won’t be leaving the area anytime soon. 

“I have always been a person who has given a lot to their career and I think now might be time to be a little selfish and spend a little more time with my family,” Rhoads said. “(But) I can’t just walk away from the community.”