First 100 Days: My gaze is forward and my mind is on our community

Posted on by Tanuja M. Dehne, Dodge Foundation president & CEO

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I write to wish you, our partners and community, warm wishes this holiday season as we head into a new year.

December is a time of reflection, to measure progress, and to set the course for the year ahead. As I close out the first 100 days as the president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, I’ve been doing just that and wanted to share some updates with you.

Since joining the staff in September, I’ve used this time to meet with the Foundation’s board and staff and participate in meetings, events, and conferences in the field to learn about New Jersey’s dynamic social sector. It has been an honor to be in this role at such an exciting time for Dodge and to experience the field and our communities with a new equity lens. My listening tour of learning will continue well into the new year.

A lot has happened in these few months. The Dodge Team, both board and staff, came together three times to strategize and advance our work, we welcomed two new board members, and we launched a search for a new CFO. Earlier this fall, the Dodge Team held a retreat in venues across Newark where we met and learned from partners and community leaders working on several fronts to make Newark a place of prosperity for all. Over two days, we shared stories and reflected on the many forms of impact Dodge has made over its 45-year history – from people, place, community and financially. Looking back with a broad lens allowed us to lean forward into our bold vision and re-imagine what impact toward an equitable New Jersey might look like in the future.

I have worked with the Dodge Team to develop program-level theories of change, and we are excited to share more about that process and next steps in the new year. We also launched our new grantmaking portal and awarded nearly $2 million in our final round of grants this year, bringing our investment in nonprofits organizations serving New Jersey communities across the arts, environment, education, informed communities, poetry, technical assistance and other areas to more than $10 million. This fall we also welcomed the newest learning community of nonprofit leaders in our Board Leadership Series, which has new offerings this year on diversity, inclusion, and equity. And, the countdown to the Dodge Poetry Festival has officially begun, and I am excited to invite you to save the dates— the Festival returns to Newark Oct. 22-25.

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My listening tour has taken me all over the state and my visits with community members have done wonders for my spirit. I have had the opportunity to share my perspectives and early learnings on the NJPAC Women’s Association Leading Ladies panel and address the issue of Trends in Philanthropy at the Center for Non-Profits 2019 NJ Nonprofits Conference. I have also had the good fortune to attend the Dodge Newark High School Poetry Mini Festival, Art Pride NJ’s annual meeting, the Black Media Story Summit Newark, the Black Issues Convention, and to participate in a racial equity workshop facilitated by Grantmakers in the Arts. I am grateful to have been able to immerse myself in understanding how philanthropy is addressing deeply entrenched race and class issues in New Jersey.

Over these months, I have absorbed, learned, and discovered much more than I expected about who we are, our community, our people (the Dodge Team), and myself. There is so much more to learn, but one thing is for certain to me: Dodge builds. Over 45 years, Dodge has built scaffolding, networks, ecosystems, relationships, expertise, the endowment, and community with patience, commitment, and care. With deep respect for our past, my gaze has turned to the future.

The program-level theory of change work has sparked bigger questions about how we might leverage what Dodge has built to create holistic impact in its many forms as we center our work on equity – including what we keep doing, what will change, and what new ecosystems we may build. The Dodge Team will embark on a Foundation Theory of Change in the new year, and we do so acknowledging we can’t do this work without engaging and partnering with the community. It is critical that we listen, learn, and collaborate with humility and transparency so that the impact we make is relevant and accessible as we connect communities and influence social change towards an equitable New Jersey.

We are embracing the opportunity of an ambiguous and exhilarating future, and we look forward to sharing our story and learning from you. It is indeed an exciting time at Dodge.

I want to thank each person who has reached out and welcomed me over these months. I’m so grateful for the outpouring of support and well wishes.

May the next few weeks nourish you and set you up for success in 2020.

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