FORM 990

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Q&A With Michelle Decker, New CEO of TCF

michelle-decker-ceo1.  What motivated you to take the job as CEO of The Community Foundation? 

I have had a long career working in community development in rural Ohio and Baltimore City, and I have learned a lot. But I also went through breast cancer last year, and as I was going through that, I was motivated to ask myself what more could I do with my life? How could I contribute differently? And what more could I learn, if I have the chance? I started scanning online job sites, talking with friends, and updating my resume. The TCF posting came across my computer and it really resonated, so I applied. Through the interview process I was really impressed with the staff and board, their interest in doing more as a leading foundation in the Inland region, and their interest in exploring new ways of doing philanthropy for greater impact. And I should mention, my dad, step mother, and brother live in Claremont, so I had been coming to Southern California for years to visit them. As I explored new jobs, I only looked where we had family.

2.  What are the greatest growth areas for The Community Foundation in the coming years?

I am very excited by the possibilities for growing TCF, making it a stellar partner and civil sector leader in Inland Southern California. As the Inland region grows and changes, The Community Foundation needs to grow with it and to be a creative and engaged partner with institutions, nonprofits, businesses, local government, and especially individuals who want to affect change and leave a legacy. In the coming months, we are going to be learning with our donors and partners what needs there are, what assets we have to build on and invest in, and the best ways to make money and other resources work for Inland Southern California.

3.  What impresses you most about the foundation sector in Inland Southern California? How about the nonprofit sector or the grantees?

One thing I’m noticing is, similar to where I come from in Central Appalachia, there are a lot of working collaboratives where different groups are coming together to solve problems – whether that’s immigration, housing, homelessness, and much more. So that’s a real positive – you have to have a culture where people can work together, share the credit and the resources, and focus on the impact that’s needed. Different from where I came from, there are just a lot of resources out here. We have the means here to solve problems, so we have to focus on the strategies that work and the will and funding to do them, for the long haul. I think the investments people are making in education in the Inland region are really exciting and The Community Foundation is going to be a leading partner helping students with needs get to higher education and on a career path.

4.  What appeals to you most about working with The Community Foundation? How does “place” factor into what motivates your work?

So in my career, I spent a lot of time designing initiatives to make change on the ground. Whether that was growing a zero waste sector, or expanding the local food economy, or undertaking commercial revitalization, I was a do-er in both rural and urban communities. Many days, my ability to do was limited by the resources I could capture for the initiative. We forget that social change is really expensive. If you are living in a world where racism or sexism or any historic injustice has been operating, how long and how much time will it take to turn that around? If you are living in a world where thousands of people need housing, or thousands of children need access to higher education, or treatment services for addiction, how long and how much will it take to do those things? So for me, at this stage in my career, I want to focus on the resources and know that there are great organizations waking up every day to do amazing things. We have a scaling problem in the nonprofit sector – I want to help think about how we scale solutions and gather the passionate donors to be their champions. Place? Place is still where things happen. While place is a physical location, to me it’s the relationships that make living worthwhile – family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and people you say hello to as you walk down the street. We are a global country and region, but we need our communities to be healthy and welcoming because we live, work, and play in a place every day. The places of Inland Southern California are amazing – I’m really loving getting on the road and getting to know our communities.

5.  How do you spend your time when you’re not working?

For now, while my kids are finishing school in Ohio, I’m exploring the trails and natural areas and hiking on the weekends. I did bring the dog and bearded dragon lizard out here with me, so there’s some animal care to be done. And I’m having a great time with my Cali family – going out to eat, going to festivals and music shows, and sitting on the back porch with a glass of red wine and good conversation into the evening. But I’m really looking forward to just getting my husband and kids out here and having adventures with them.