March 13, 2023
Passing the Torch: Dallas Joseph and Charlie Brock
In Chattanooga, the Brock Family is synonymous with leadership - in business, politics, and philanthropy. Charlie Brock recently completed a term as Chairman of the Board of the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga before turning the reins over to Dallas Joseph, the longtime Chief Financial Officer for the Baylor School. Dallas begins his Chairmanship at a pivotal time for the community and the Foundation, as it looks to play a meaningful role in improving every family’s access to stable housing, good education, and access to legal counsel for those facing eviction. As the Foundation continues to expand its programmatic footprint and engage new supporters, these leaders recently met for a conversation about where the community they love is headed - and what the Foundation is doing to pave the way.
How do you two think about the role of being a Board chair of an institution like the Community Foundation? Do you have a particular leadership philosophy for a position like that?
The support of the CEO would be one of the things that I think about a lot – making sure that we’re in a position to support. Maeghan [Jones, current President and CEO]. Secondarily would be making sure that we're being strategic when we [the Board] come together, and that we create an opportunity for members to have their voices heard around the table. I want to make sure I’ve been as communicative as possible before our meetings so that people can come in with thoughtful feedback. To me, that’s how we keep everyone focused on the plan that we have to drive community impact.
Maeghan is so ensconced in this community and is so well known, but the CEO can be a lonely position, even in a very collaborative, empathetic, culture like this one – you can still be alone in the role. So I’ve tried to help be a sounding board and a resource for her. As Dallas talked about, the challenge with a lot of Boards is always, How do you get a high degree of engagement from really busy, talented people? That’s something we work on a lot.
Charlie, during your time as Chairman of the Board, what did you learn about Chattanooga? What did you learn about the Community Foundation?
One of the things I've felt acutely is the Foundation’s willingness to be a real leader on some key programmatic initiatives and sometimes jump into “the deep end” – because we're not quite sure what the waters look like! Our response to the COVID pandemic is a great example. That was just getting underway when I became Board chair; the Foundation jumped in early and not only helped raise money to help alleviate some of the conditions [caused by public health lockdown orders], but later on also said, “How can we help get the vaccine out?” Obviously, that was just uncharted waters for us, but so important to the community.
This Foundation has a great reputation among a lot of people who think about establishing a donor advised fund or legacy gift to facilitate their family's giving, or a memorial scholarship – people know us for all of that. I think now we're becoming known for much, much more.
We're trying to not help just those individuals who are immediately afflicted by an adverse situation, but to change the situation itself.
I've been associated in some way with the Foundation for 20 years now. I was new to the community when I got connected to the Foundation by a colleague of mine at Baylor; I was asked as a member of our finance department to consider becoming a board member, but I really had no clue about what impact the Community Foundation was making! What I’ve learned is how in many ways, the Foundation is a trusted partner that donors need because they have a lot of professionals on their staff whose responsibilities are to know what's happening in the community. Using that information keeps the Foundation team focused on things that are a priority for the community right now – but can also lead the community down the road where they might not go without a little push.
What is the Foundation doing now that perhaps it hadn't done previously? As Board chair, how do you think about some of the bigger systemic conditions that are holding the community back?
I’m inspired by the fact that we now have a mission statement that is explicitly focused on addressing root causes of our community’s challenges. That's very hard, arduous work, and of course, you don't quite know where it's going to lead to or how long it's going to take. I think, however, we’re able to lead in this way because of the trust and relationships that the Foundation has built – not only with donors, who support us and who want to support this work – but also with nonprofit partners in the community. Because of them, we’re getting more proximate to the issues. Through Maeghan's leadership, the Foundation has engaged advisory groups and community leaders who better understand some of the issues and challenges that those of us on the Board may appreciate but can’t always fully comprehend. Pulling the right people around the table to think about these things is a hugely important part of leading, which leads to a more effective Foundation.
I think Maeghan has done a great job getting the board to realize that we need to hear from people who are being impacted by things that are happening in the community that impacted their lives. A lot of times, we assume that people know the things that we're trying to tackle and ways that we’re trying to change the community, but there are a lot of people in our city who have no clue about what other people are going through and the challenges that they face. The Eviction Prevention Initiative is one example: until we started working on it, I never thought about evictions because I didn't have to worry about it. If you’re going to educate people so that they really understand what we're doing and the impact that we're having, we’ve got to be close to people who are impacted by these decisions.
As it relates to bringing new donors into the fold, how do you talk to people who are considering investing in the Foundation? What are some of the advantages of working with the Foundation that you might articulate to a family looking to make a difference?
I would start by talking about the Foundation’s highly trained staff who are clearly engaged in what's happening in the community. If you are someone who has maybe just come into some resources, and you have no idea about how to make an impact, the Foundation team has the resources and experience to help you walk through any number of scenarios. The Foundation wants to be a trusted partner – we don’t just want to get assets under management for their own sake, we want to have a long-term sustainable impact on the community. Sometimes that doesn’t happen right away. We're trying not to be transactional; we’re always trying to establish a relationship with a donor.
I think about my own situation when I sold a company and had the good fortune to get introduced to Pete [Cooper, previous Community Foundation President and CEO] at that time. Whenever I'm called to talk to others about our donor advised fund services and so forth, I really focus on intention, efficiency, and effectiveness. Certainly, a donor can get efficiency through other kinds of donor advised funds, but the intentionality that the Foundation staff provides and the deep local community knowledge they possess helps a prospective donor really connect with what they care about. What do you want to do? What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How have your historical giving trends matched up with what kind of difference you want to make? It’s a wonderful thing to help ensure alignment with donors' wishes, which they can do so effectively as you're trying to have an impact on the community that we all love.
What kind of impact do you want to see the Foundation make in the year ahead?
Chattanooga is getting a lot of attention as a city. Nationally, people look at us as a place where we've been able to make things happen. The Eviction Prevention Initiative will begin making an even greater impact.
One of the things that Dallas mentioned was the Eviction Prevention Initiative, and I am looking forward to the learnings that we're going to get from that in our longitudinal research of clients. Again - it’s about more than just the dollars helping people in need right now, it’s about understanding: What are the things that we learned? What are often those downstream impacts? What do those look like in terms of homelessness, crime, or other things? What are the costs associated with that? I think it will be really important for us to have larger conversations in this community about what we need to be doing to address all of that. For all the great gains that we've had in Chattanooga across so many areas over the last 20 or 30 years, the fact remains that if you’re born poor in some ZIP codes, you’ve got an 85% or 90% chance of remaining poor - and that was true 80 years ago, 50 years ago, 30 years ago, and it's still true today. Things have got to change.
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