Leader armed with growth ideas


Columbia Foundation aims to expand donor base

July 11, 2008|By JANENE HOLZBERG

Some people call Beverley Francis a matchmaker and others say she's a bridge builder.

But no matter what the term, the new head of the Columbia Foundation has a record of hooking up potential donors with causes that have special meaning to them, or with donors who share similar interests.

Arranging such personalized philanthropy is one of Francis' goals as president and chief executive officer of the foundation, which funds civic, cultural, human service and educational programs in Howard County.

But before she tackles upgrading the foundation's donor services, which she termed "underdeveloped," Francis said she must expand its resources by attracting new donors.

"From what I can gather, there has not traditionally been a pro-active approach to this in the county," said Francis, 45, who took over from Barbara Lawson in June. The former CEO had run the foundation since 1989.

"I plan to focus on expanding the foundation's donor base," Francis said. "I'm told it's what I'm good at."

Her ideas include such varied approaches as organizing a van tour of a community in need, launching a donor education series, and setting up lunches for like-minded contributors who want to tackle a onetime issue.

Meg Moon, chair of the foundation's board of trustees, said Francis' talent for attracting and serving donors played a large part in her hiring.

"It became clear in the interview process that not only does Beverley have the experience and background we were looking for," said Moon, "but she has an extra level of creativity and forward-thinking that is perfect for where the foundation is now and for where we want to take it."

The Columbia Foundation was started in 1969 by Columbia's founder, James W. Rouse. Maryland county foundations, some established as recently as 2006, have cumulative grant-making totals that handily surpass the $9 million that Howard County's nonprofit organization has awarded so far, according to the Web site of the Baltimore-based Maryland Community Foundations.

The Community Foundation of Frederick County, formed in 1986, has doled out $17 million, while the two-year-old Montgomery County Community Foundation has distributed grants exceeding $19 million.

"There are a lot of factors" why giving in Howard County lags behind where it could be, Francis said, noting that she has not been in her position long enough yet to be acquainted with them all.

"There hasn't traditionally been a culture of endowment-building here - which is a mindset" that must be cultivated, she said. "And many people work here, but don't live here" and aren't interested in contributing to county causes.

"Giving is never an automatic thing," she pointed out, "not even in a place like Columbia."

And Columbia is a special place to Francis.

Every summer for the past decade, she and her three daughters have driven from eastern North Carolina to visit her cousin and his family at his home off Route 108. The cousins had grown close during their senior year of high school on St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Francis was born and raised.

The family never viewed their annual visits as opportunities to explore nearby Washington or Baltimore, she said. In fact, they rarely ventured outside Howard county. But they all thrived on Columbia's energy and hated leaving each year.

"I love the concept of the villages and the sense of community and inclusiveness," she said. "Columbia is different from any place I've ever lived."

While several colleagues tried to nudge her into applying for the job, Francis said she hesitated initially. She had a leadership role at a midsize foundation with $140 million in funds, nearly 10 times that of the Columbia Foundation, and felt content.

"But they knew Columbia as a place I have loved and they would say, 'Did you see where this job is? Did you read the job description? That's you - that's your job!'" she said. "And they were right. Moving here felt like going home."

In April, Francis announced she would leave her position as director of philanthropic services for Triangle Community Foundation in Durham, N.C., where she had worked for 10 years.

She moved to Hickory Ridge the first weekend in June with her youngest daughter, 10-year-old Gabrielle Halliday, and her mother, Mary Francis, 76. Her other daughters, Djarta, 23, and Aria, 18, are staying in North Carolina.

The move has brought her full circle, Francis said.

While she once thought she would be a social worker, she earned a bachelor's degree in public relations and later a master's degree in industrial and community counseling, both at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky.

She worked for the Community Centers of Indianapolis before moving to North Carolina. In Indiana Francis was director of a domestic violence program called Women-In-Action before accepting the Triangle Community job, which she left for the Columbia post.

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