This year marks a very special anniversary for two of Forum Staff members. Mary O’Neill, Interim Director, and Val Rozansky, Director of Knowledge Services, have been serving regional associations of grantmakers at the Forum for 10 years.
Below we reflect on their accomplishments through the year as friends, colleagues, and peers offer their congratulations.
Mary initially joined the Forum in May 2005 as Director of the Forum’s Effectiveness & Accountability Initiative, a project focused on increasing philanthropic effectiveness at the regional level. Highlights of this project include working with RAs to develop and implement guiding principles for grantmakers, building relationships with state charity officers, and the creation of educational resources on critical issues including conference call series, sample newsletter content, and reports and tools like Self-Dealing: A Concise Guide For Foundation Board and Staff and the Accountability Self-Assessment Tool for Private Foundations.
After the completion of this project, Mary transitioned to the role of Director of Programs where she has overseen all of the Forum’s programming including our Annual Conference and Foundations on the Hill, led the development of the Forum’s collaborative partnerships with colleagues across the field, and managed our grantmaker education work including Essential Skills & Strategies, LearnPhilanthropy, and grantmaker education resources like the Programming Directory and Framework for Delivering Education Programs in Your Regional Association.
Mary is currently serving as Interim Director while the Forum undergoes an executive transition. Mary also acts as the Forum’s de facto HR rep, grants manager, restaurant reviewer, and activity director. A native of Chicago, Mary lives in DC with her husband and two daughters where you can find her rooting for the Nationals, trying to finish her latest book club selection, and lobbying for all restaurants to serve brewed iced tea.
David Biemesderfer, Florida Philanthropic Network: Mary has been a rock for the Forum over the past 10 years. She’s helped guide the organization through many changes, achievements and challenges - all with a steady demeanor, a strong sense of determination and an unwavering commitment to the Forum’s mission and goals. Mary has stepped up to the plate many times over the years to ensure a positive future for the Forum, most recently in 2015 when she rose to the occasion to serve as the Forum’s Interim Director. She’s done an incredible job to keep the Forum team working together seamlessly and effectively during this transitional period. I’m grateful for Mary’s leadership both as a Forum member and as chair of the Forum’s board of directors. I want to personally thank Mary for all her hard work and dedication on behalf of the Forum Network.
Lucille DiDomenico, Philanthropy Southwest: In some ways I feel that Mary and I have been co-conspirators. This means I cannot reveal how or about what or whom… But I WILL admit that we’ve had many laughs (some private!). Over the years her sense of humor and nearly instant response to my smallest requests or questions have made my job easier and are much appreciated. We have shared a practical approach to many challenges faced by the Forum in the last ten years. Stories? We have plenty!! I am counting on many more…and on solving things together. LOVE YOU, MARY!!!
Courtney Moore, Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers: Of the 10 years Mary’s been at the Forum, I’ve worked with Mary for 9 of those years. We’ve experienced many changes during this time including new titles and added responsibilities, four office moves, and the Forum working together as a network. Through it all Mary has adapted and taken on new leadership roles with ease (and she says she hates change!). I’ve learned a lot from Mary over the years from working with members, balancing practicality and big ideas, prioritizing life in work-life balance, and maybe most importantly making sure you have the latest issue of US Weekly for a plane ride (it’s the essentials.) Thanks Mary for being a great boss and friend…here’s to 9 more years!
Robin Berkson, Donors Forum: I’ve always seen Mary O’Neill as an example for Regional Association staff of the connector with fast response time and her finger on the pulse of the hottest issues. Thanks, Mary, for doing what you’ve done to keep us all informed, timely, and relevant.
When Val joined the Forum in 2005, there were no knowledge services and there was no shared technology platform. Each regional association, and the Forum, was completely on its own, but an idea rooted in collaboration and shared knowledge was beginning to take shape. It was up to Val, with the guidance of the Forum’s Board and members, to make this idea a reality.
In the ten years since that time, an unprecedented collaboration has been underway in the Forum Network with Val at its helm. Through economies of scale and leveraging collective resources, the technology platform developed by Val and the partner regional associations levels the playing field for regionals of all sizes, provides access to world class functionality that would be financially prohibitive otherwise, and helps regional association better manage their website and membership databases.
In recent years the Forum’s technology project has migrated away from proprietary systems, embracing open source development. While the original system launched with only a handful of partners, the current Drupal-Salesforce Platform is in use by two-thirds of all regional associations, more than doubling system adoption—a testament to Val’s leadership. Powering multiple independent websites that are integrated with a shared Salesforce package standardizing operations for each participating organization, the Drupal-Salesforce Platform has attracted attention for its technical innovation, but also, and perhaps more importantly, Val’s vibrant approach to peer learning and co-development.
When not working on behalf of regionals (thought really it seems Val is always working!), he lives in Maryland with his wife and his adorable dog Alfie. He’s a huge Washington Capitals fan. You may find him to be a little bit grumpy the day after a big loss, but he’s quick to shake it off with some friendly conversation. Originally from Belrus, Val was previously a competitive handball player, worked for Microsoft, remembers every grade he ever got, and can most likely guess your middle name within three tries.
Kim Snipes, Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers: It has been so much fun getting to know Val and working with him on the Drupal-Salesforce Project. Back in the early stages of the Salesforce work, my calendar was pretty much packed with "Call with Val" appointments. Now it is more of my inbox that is filled with emails from him but its all good...gives me an excuse to ask about Alfie! His energy is contagious and focus on the big picture keeps work moving forward. Here's to a great year, Val! Thank you for the endless hours you give to the Forum and our network.
Kristen Ruff, Philanthropy New York: Through this project we've increased our individual and collective capacity, built strong working relationships that go far beyond the technology platform and served as a model for collaboration in the sector. This is due in no short measure to Val's tremendous leadership. He's the rare leader who can think big and set an ambitious vision and execute every last detail. He's led a challenging project with creativity, patience, flexibility and most of all, humor.
William Corkill, Council of Michigan Foundations: Congratulations on the your 10 year anniversary at the Forum, Val! Your contribution and leadership has given us so much success over the years and is quite the accomplishment. It's been a pleasure to work closely with you and I look forward to continuing this great work with you. Given our long talks on the phone working on the Drupal-Salesforce Platform, I think I might talk with you more than anyone else in my phone's contacts! (Don't tell the wife and kids!)
Dan Brady, Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers: During my first week at the Forum Val took me out for coffee and he said that he wanted my experience here to be all about learning, that was his top priority, that I would learn more and more each day and serve our members better and better. I think that’s an approach he takes with himself and with the Drupal-Salesforce Project as well. For him, it’s about always improving the way you do things, always expanding what you know. He’s a great mentor and friend.