Center Lands New Leader


    GRAND RAPIDS — Kathy Agard looks at her new role as executive director of the DorothyA.JohnsonCenter for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership as the culmination of her career experience.

    “I see this really as bringing together all of the experiences I’ve had during my professional career,” she said. “I’ve had lots of experience in the nonprofit sector and lots of enthusiasm for what it will do for our country and individuals.”

    With 28 years of philanthropic and nonprofit work behind her, including founding the Learning to Give organization in 1997, Agard has worked to establish a sense of philanthropy and its importance in the community. She has been involved with the Community Foundation for MuskegonCounty, the Council of Michigan Foundations, and HackleyHospital, where she is a board member. Agard is also on the MuskegonIntermediateSchool District board and the board of TempleUnitedMethodistChurch in MuskegonHeights. A Muskegon resident, she plans to continue to live in the city and commute to Grand Rapids.

    “The JohnsonCenter is a real treasure for the country,” she said. “It’s a very exciting position.”

    Agard will remain executive director of Learning to Give, an organization which helps to educate youth about philanthropy and encourage civic involvement, until mid-April, and then divide her time between Learning to Give and the JohnsonCenter until May 15, when she will begin to work full-time for the center. Agard said Learning to Give will be merged with a new group called The League, of which she will be a board member.

    Agard said she would like to gain support and recognition for the center’s efforts, which include the Community Research Institute, The Grantmaking School, the nonprofit resource guide, and professional development for nonprofit managers, making the programs more well-known.

    “Each one of them is particularly unique and a strong resource for the nonprofit sector,” she said.

    Interim Executive Director Joel Orosz said he will be thrilled to return to his full-time position as director of The Grantmaking School and is confident in Agard’s ability to lead the center.

    “She really is a first-rate educator in this field,” he said. “Her experience is hard to beat.”

    Orosz said beyond the experience that she has had, it is the leadership skills that make her stand out.

    “Kathy is a warm and empathetic leader,” he said. “She leads by example rather than whacking people over the head.”

    That leadership is just what the center, which has many new employees, needs, Orosz said.

    “She’ll be just a first-rate role model for them,” he said.

    Orosz said Agard’s role will have three main facets: continuing to develop the center’s relationship with GrandValleyStateUniversity, keeping up with the national clientele, and raising money for the center.

    Keeping the JohnsonCenter a vital part of the university, working with academic programs and teaching about philanthropy are all important, he said. But it is also important to be a part of the community.

    “We work very hard not to be an ‘ivory tower’ organization,” Orosz said of staying in touch with community nonprofit organizations.

    “We need to have those contacts and the ability to reach out into the community,” he said.

    The center had grown from two people in 2000 to 19 current employees under the leadership of the former executive director, Donna VanIwaarden, and more growth is coming, Orosz said.

    “We think we’re poised on the launch pad right now. We think that we can become even more useful to the community and the university,” he said. “We think Kathy’s going to be the rocket that will make that happen.”    

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