Twelve years ago, Heather Allender, President & CEO of Marietta Community Foundation, began her career at the Foundation. In celebration of this milestone, we are taking a break from our “Meet the Board” series and putting Heather in the hot-seat to learn about her 12-year, professional development.
Mason Beuhring: So, Heather, before embarking on a 12-year (and counting) career in the nonprofit field, who were you and what did you do?
Heather Allender: I grew up in Meigs County, Ohio. Through high school, I worked on a farm pulling corn and picking tomatoes. I like to think I’m a hard worker. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money at my disposal and, because of that, I understand all sides of philanthropy. I can sympathize with the needs people face, because of my experiences. Which makes me better at my job here at the Foundation.
My mom valued community service and encouraged me to volunteer with her, always bringing me along. It seemed like we were helping out with something every weekend; projects with the local Lions Club, food pantries, fundraising events, etc. The majority of my volunteer time was with the food pantry operated by our church.
MB: Did that experience serve as a precursor to your involvement with nonprofits?
HA: Yes, out of high school I served a year as an AmeriCorp VISTA for a nonprofit called Appalachian Nutrition Network. There I worked on the other side of grant-making.
In my current role at the Foundation, I get to give out money, but back then I was asking for money.
MB: In that position did you ever interact with Marietta Community Foundation?
HA: Our office was actually right across the hall from the Foundation, we were located in the Putnam Commons. Jim Couts, who started Appalachian Nutrition Network, had also served on the Board of Directors for the Foundation at one time.
Some of my very first grant applications were actually submitted to the Foundation for consideration.
MB: How did you get involved with the Foundation?
HA: After my AmeriCorp VISTA position ended, I returned to school, attending Marietta College. I caught wind that the Foundation was adding a part-time assistant position, so I applied. Just a month prior, Jack Moberg had retired and Bill Thompson stepped into his role. Hiring me was one of his first actions as President & CEO.
About a year in, there was an opening for the full-time Office Manager position and Bill approached me with an offer. Bill saw something in me and believed I could take the Foundation to the next level.
It was one of those big moments in life where you’re kind of at a crossroads. I was going to Marietta College for Psychology and my ultimate goal was to do research. So do I continue with my education? Or, do I take a risk and accept the position?
After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to take the risk and accept the offer.
MB: What was it like working with Bill Thompson?
HA: I was really fortunate to have Bill as a mentor. He was honest and blunt, with a very unique sense of humor, which I really appreciated. His son Andy has the same sense of humor and always makes me think of Bill.
He could also write so well! He helped me develop my own writing and communication skills.
As a young person just beginning my career, I was lucky to have someone like Bill guide me along the way, teaching me how to be a ‘professional’. I truly treasure the relationship I formed with Bill and even his family over the years.
MB: Did you face any challenges when you took on your full-time position?
HA: Absolutely, I didn’t know what I was doing! So, I would work 12 hours a day learning everything that I could… I gave it 110 percent.
There were so many people who helped me along the way, too. I developed close relationships with Trina Cummings and Tina Weckbacher, from Peoples Bank. I’d reach out to them, begging for their help. They would actually come over to our office, sit down with me, and teach me how these different processes worked.
The people at Rea & Associates, helped me out a lot too. They actually had me come to their office, they sat me at a computer and showed me how to fill out the 990 tax forms for that year.
I learned so much, and through that, I was able able to pinpoint things we were doing inefficiently. Information wasn’t easily accessible and we used outdated processes. So I took on the task of bringing us into a more modern and efficient workflow.
If you look at how the Foundation operated from when I first started to how it is today, it’s completely different.
MB: When did you move into the President & CEO position?
HA: After Bill retired, for the second time, the board asked Carol Wharff to come back and fill the role. Carol had been in the position years before and she had continued to do some contract work for us. For a while, it was just Carol and me until she retired.
That’s when I ended up taking the position. I hired Britani and several years later we brought you in as our third, full-time staffer.
MB: I’m glad you did! Speaking of which, what are your thoughts on the growth we’ve been experiencing these past few years?
HA: It’s exciting! We’ve hit a lot of milestones these past couple of years, but there is still more to do. I’m happy with where we are at, but I’m not satisfied because I know there’s a lot more to accomplish.
MB: What is one thing you would like people to know about the Foundation?
HA: How easy it is to create a legacy. I think people get intimidated, but that shouldn’t be the case. Once people come through our door to set-up a fund they are finished in around half-an-hour. That half-an-hour ends up changing peoples lives for a long time after.
MB: What is your favorite aspect of your role as President & CEO of Marietta Community Foundation?
HA: I like sitting with donors and guiding them through our process. A lot of people don’t know what they want to do, but they know they want to do something. I like helping them find a solution by connecting them to different causes, organizations, and/or projects in the community.
MB: So, for 40 hours a week I get to see the “hard-working Heather,” but what do you like to do in your downtime when you’re not in the office?
HA: I’m a major movie and TV buff, even though I hate to admit how much time I spend just watching TV. I haven’t been able to watch as much lately though, with my 18 month-old son running around. He has certainly gotten my husband and me outside more.
MB: Is there anything you would like to add before we wrap-up?
HA: I would just say that one of the best parts of the job are the relationships I’ve built throughout the years. I have gotten to work with so many professional, successful, and outstanding business people who have served on our Board.
MB: Well, Heather, thank you, but I should probably get back to work before I get into hot water with my boss!
HA: In this case, I think you’re safe!