The last three years have been a time of rapid growth for the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation under the leadership of its outgoing CEO Kristin Carlson Vogen, who announced this month she’s leaving for a job at the Chicago Community Trust.
Vogen took the position in August 2014 and during her tenure has helped grow the assets of the Community Foundation, and the Charitable Trust it oversees, by a combined 16 percent, from $58 million to $69 million. That includes distributions of nearly $15 million to local, regional and national organizations.
Community Foundation CFO Sheryl Martin will serve as interim CEO until a successor is chosen.
Oak Park philanthropist Mary Jo Schuler said in a telephone interview that Vogen’s leadership “has brought the Community Foundation to new heights.”
“She is the Energizer Bunny personified,” Schuler said, noting Vogen’s work on the Community Works Partnership, NextGen Leaders program, the Big Idea initiative, and the revamp of the Leadership Lab.
“We’re sorry to see her go, but we feel incredibly blessed that she’s spent three-plus years with us,” Schuler said.
A news release from the Community Foundation noted Vogen not only re-energized existing giving groups at the organization but also created new ones.
The Community Foundation noted that its Women Leaders in Philanthropy group grew from 68 to 92 active members during Vogen’s tenure, distributing $36,000 to various causes in 2016. The Big Idea competition, created during Vogen’s time as CEO, awards $50,000 to entrepreneurs who pitch ideas that help transform the community.
The Surplus Project, which repackages and distributes food from local organizations, was the 2016 Big Idea recipient, and The Rescue Foundation, which provides workforce training for ex-offenders, was this year’s recipient.
The Community Foundation noted that the Communityworks endowment fund, which is overseen by the foundation, also flourished under Vogen’s leadership. Communityworks focuses on Seven Generations Ahead’s PlanItGreen initiative for environmental sustainability; Success of All Youth, which works to help all children reach their potential; and Leadership Lab, which develops local leaders in business, government and nonprofit sectors.
Gary Cuneen, executive director of Seven Generations Ahead, wrote in an email that Vogen “has been extraordinary in her role — combining vision, enthusiasm and hands-on action that we will sorely miss as a community.”
“Kristen’s positive spirit and easy-to-work-with personality, combined with her ability to build relationships, generate ideas and create collaboration, are the legacy that she is leaving as the Community Foundation’s CEO and president,” Cuneen wrote.
Vogen, a River Forest resident who was named Villager of the Year by Wednesday Journal in 2015, emphasized the importance of “collective giving” that takes place at the organization, calling it “the core of everything we do at the Community Foundation.”
“We’re able to highlight that by creating giving groups that connect people who have something in common and have them be able to contribute smaller amounts and leverage something bigger and more impactful in the community,” Vogen said.
Schuler said the Community Foundation is fortunate not only to have gotten Vogen for the time it did but also the fact that she will remain in the community.
“The other advantage is she is remaining in the Chicagoland philanthropic community,” she said. “She’s going to the Chicago Community Trust, which does have jurisdiction over really the entire county, so we are not completely losing her.”