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10 Questions or Less for Marissa Thiesen

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

10 Questions or Less is a feature through which we get to know regional association staff members a little better—their work, what drives them, and more. If you would like to suggest someone for a profile through 10 Questions or Less, contact Dan Brady.

In your role as President and CEO of Arizona Grantmakers Forum, how does the Forum Network contribute to your work?

Collegial relationships with other CEO’s which provide peer support; Staff development; Sharing of ideas and resources; Comparative salary/benefits information and Characteristics Reports; Training and support around public policy; Advocacy on behalf of the sector.

Is there anything AGF is working on now that is particularly exciting?

We are planning a special event in November which will feature five new foundation CEO’s and feature Fay Twersky, Director of Effective Philanthropy Group at the Hewlett Foundation who just completed research on the challenges facing new foundation CEO’s. We’re also planning for the third AZ Gives Day, which we do in partnership with our state association.

This year you’ve served as the committee chair of the Forum’s upcoming conference in San Diego. What do we have in store for the Forum membership?

This year’s conference will hopefully be a great event. Our aim was to build on successful elements from previous conferences and to incorporate ideas from a variety of RA staff. Support from the planning team and Forum staff was terrific. One key focus will be on networking, both personally and as an organization. Other topics will include effective collaborations/partnerships, creative problem solving, succession planning, rebranding, improved communications, diversifying revenues, etc. San Diego is a great city and we’re sure to have fun and eat well!

Having worked for 14 years at the Arizona Grantmakers Forum, what changes have you seen in the philanthropic field?

When I helped start AGF in 1999, philanthropy was expanding rapidly and everyone was excited about what this new growth could achieve. (Anyone remember the $40 Trillion transfer of wealth that was on the horizon?) The Forum operated with 12 staff and we held two conferences a year. However, the market crash and subsequent deep recession but a damper on this enthusiasm. While foundation assets have largely rebounded, the overall economy has not. Demand for foundation support has skyrocketed and many nonprofits are struggling. Foundation staff in Arizona feel overwhelmed and are less likely to attend educational programs, never mind engaging in deeper reflection about the sector and their role in it. Funders seem overly stressed. On the plus side, the sector is now exploring innovative ways like social impact investing and Pay for Success strategies that may ultimately produce badly needed additional capital for the sector. The assets of the very wealthy continue to grow and I’m hopeful that more such individuals in Arizona will choose to become philanthropic.

You recently announced that you are retiring in the next few months. Do you have any parting words for the Network?

I am impressed by the quality and experiences of the new RA CEO’s as well as that of the younger RA staff. I feel the Forum staff, while leaner than 14 years ago, is highly skilled and provides excellent support. I believe establishing the Forum as an independent 501(c)3, seperate from the Council on Foundations, is a good move. We can now partner as equals. So I am confident that the Forum network will continue to grow stronger and more effective over time. I have made some life long friends through the Forum and am grateful to have been involved with this important network.

Anything else we should know?

I am not retiring but rather transitioning to a new role. I hope to remain involved in the philanthropic sector where ever I feel I can use my experience/talents to make a positive difference.