Philanthropy is a foundation of American society. It helps support organizations that serve the needy, contributes to a sense of community and allows donors to contribute to causes they deem worthy.
Such giving, however, does not simply happen. It requires sharp organizational skills and leadership that can forge and build on connections with both power brokers and average citizens. With that in mind, Clark County will miss two important pillars of our community.
Jennifer Rhoads is stepping down after eight years as president of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, and Lisa Gibert is leaving the Clark College Foundation after 16 years. Both leaders have helped strengthen our region by tapping into the generosity of local residents and building organizations that have benefited thousands of people.
Rhoads, for example, has overseen the creation and development of Give More 24!, an annual 24-hour fundraising drive that assists more than 200 nonprofits in Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties. In September, Give More 24! raised more than $3.3 million, breaking the record for the event.
This year’s online giving marathon drew about 6,600 donors to nonprofits both big and small, with contributors allowed to target a specific charity. Among the attributes of the event is that it draws attention to smaller nonprofits that often are overshadowed by large, well-known agencies.
As an umbrella organization, the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington oversees 360 distinct funds that generate growth and income for grant purposes. The organization reports that it has granted more than $145 million since its inception in 1984.
“It has been the best working experience of my life, but I also believe in an organization’s development, and now is the time for me to go,” Rhoads said in announcing her departure. “Leadership is also knowing when to leave.”
Rhoads, a Vancouver native, will stay with the organization until a replacement is in place sometime next year.
Gibert, meanwhile, has overseen the Clark College Foundation, a philanthropy that benefits the college and its students. During her tenure, student scholarships have quadrupled and Clark College has developed the nation’s fourth-largest endowment among community colleges. That has helped educate thousands of students who then contribute to our community and the local economy.
“I have been so fortunate to be at Clark and to have so many phenomenal things to be involved with and to inspire others to make their lives better,” Gibert said.
The work of Rhoads and Gibert allows for reflection on the role of philanthropy in American society. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, charitable giving in the United States rose 3.8 percent during 2020. This was in spite of — or perhaps because of — a pandemic. When Americans see a need, they respond.
But even philanthropy is subject to growing wealth inequality. As The Washington Post reported this week: “The share of Americans who give has been declining for decades and now hovers at 50 percent even as total giving continues to increase. But the pandemic deepened charities’ reliance on donors who can make the biggest gifts, and that is likely to continue in the years ahead.”
That will require that organizations have strong leaders who can build relationships and inspire donors to contribute to their communities. Jennifer Rhoads and Lisa Gibert have done that for years in Southwest Washington.