Q: What most notably stands out about your leadership style or what is an example of leadership success you can share with our readers?
I believe that a leader is best judged by what they leave behind, not what they accomplish today. This standard has guided me throughout my career and driven many of my actions at ACF. No organization can innovate or be responsive without a stable and strong infrastructure. This was not the case when I arrived 13 years ago. But it is today, along every dimension by which one might judge us: core values, governance, leadership, talent, grantmaking and scholarship growth, scale and stewardship of assets, community engagement and program expansion, inclusion and diversity, fiscal and operating strength, transparency, and digital transformation.
What impact has COVID-19 or the disruptions of the past 18 months had on you as a leader?
As an organization built by and for the community, ACF was both impacted by COVID-19 and had an opportunity to make a bigger impact than ever before on the nonprofits, small business owners and the people who benefit from those essential services. As ACF’s leader, it was my role to keep my team safe while getting immediate relief funding to organizations that were seeing demand increase exponentially and continuing to provide exceptional service to our donors who were also seeking to support these needs. We were able to meet these needs while also expanding our services to help municipalities across the state distribute grant funding to small businesses that on its own exceeded our previous annual grantmaking by more than $20 million. The sale and pace at which we work multiplied even as we adapted to a largely remote work environment. This tested my leadership style because relationships are essential to our work, and I still have yet to see a connection between people that is not made better through in-person interaction. I don’t think any of us have a solution to that challenge, but I’m learning to be open to the innovative ideas that may emerge from this period in our history.
It was also impossible to ignore the inequities that were brought to light through this crisis, both in philanthropy and in our communities. This spurred me to act thoughtfully and intentionally as ACF continued upon our own diversity, equity and inclusion journey. We looked inward at our hiring and promotion practices and outward at our grantmaking process, involving community and stakeholders while incorporating lessons learned from the pandemic along the way. I’m proud to say that, today, we have the most diverse board and staff in our organization’s history and are making grants to organizations that had not previously received direct support from ACF. While work in this space is never finished, COVID-19 was a reminder that we can always innovate and improve, seeking ways to bring our donors along on this important reality.
What do you feel we can be doing as a business community to empower economic growth here?
Throughout my tenure at ACF, we have been laser-focused on building trust and enduring relationships with donors from all walks of life. Our growth, scale and reach would not have been possible without serving our donors as a first order priority, then building the foundation’s focus around their collective vision for Arizona. I believe the same recipe is needed for empowering economic growth overall — trust and relationships are essential for creating meaningful change.
Economic growth comes when more individuals, families and businesses are inspired to invest in our community, and more of them will be willing to do that when they see the current business community making investments in our education system, our arts and cultural institutions, our natural resources and one another.
What is new and notable for your company’s near future that will impact our economy?
ACF is on an amazing trajectory and is in the best position ever to have impact on the many new challenges Arizona will face in the years ahead — some we have yet to know or understand. But our scale could likely triple in the next decade, enabling ACF and our donors to take on a wide array of new challenges at levels never imagined. I see ACF creating even more affordable housing, funding innovations for sustainability driven by high heat and diminishing water supplies, strengthening the common good through constructive civil discourse and community engagement, and inventing creative new tools in social finance to strengthen nonprofits and better equip them to address the community challenges of the future.
Name of Leader: Steve Seleznow
Position of Leader: President & CEO
Organization Name: Arizona Community Foundation
No. of Years with Organization: 13
Main Local Office Address: 2201 E. Camelback Road, Suite 405B, Phoenix, AZ 85016
Phone: (602) 381-1400
Number of offices in Greater Phoenix: 1
Year Established Locally: 1978
City Nationally Headquartered: Phoenix
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