Karen Lee Spaulding, Vice President of Philanthropic Support, has announced her intention to retire from The John R. Oishei Foundation at the end of 2021. Karen has been with the Foundation since 2013 when she was hired to create the newly formed office of Philanthropic Support that has now become the hallmark of the Foundation’s “beyond grantmaking” work. A search for her successor is now underway.
Karen joined the Foundation in a role designed to provide support and capacity building to the local nonprofit community. She has worked with countless nonprofit professionals, boards of directors, and organizations throughout Western New York to address a variety of challenges and opportunities. Karen works in close collaboration with the Oishei Foundation’s program officers to build the strength of grantees through organizational assessments/development, leadership development, retreat and meeting facilitation, strategic staffing and succession planning, executive coaching and searches, network building, and identification of training opportunities. She has focused especially on strengthening governance practices for nonprofit organizations, with a commitment to introducing equity into every conversation.
Robert D. Gioia, President of the Oishei Foundation commented, “Karen has been the pioneer in creating the philanthropic support function, setting the standard and the example for other foundations. Under her leadership, it has become a critical part of our work and is the basis for the Foundation’s ‘beyond grantmaking’ commitment to our community. She has always gone the extra mile in supporting our grantees and in developing relationships that have become so valuable for the Foundation and for our partners.” He continued, “Karen will be sorely missed, not only for the excellence in her work, but also for her warmth, her friendship, and her gracious manner in all things. Her legacy is truly in her unwavering commitment to the development and capacity building of nonprofit organizations and professionals, particularly those of color, who are critical to the wellbeing of Western New York.”
Most recently, Karen has spearheaded the Foundation’s programs designed to address racial equity including convening the Community Conversations for Leaders of Color (CCLOC) and the development of the Oishei Fellowship for Leaders of Color (OFLOC) program. The Community Conversations are designed to provide a forum for rigorous conversation, wide-reaching connection, and supportive community for nonprofit leaders of color. Nearly 200 professionals have joined the conversations since they began in 2019 and the group is now developing specific action steps to continue and strengthen their network for resource sharing and community building. As a result of her ongoing conversations with the leaders of color, she established a professional development series for nonprofit practitioners who appreciate learning in a BIPOC-only space and has forged a relationship with her counterpart at the Field Foundation of Illinois, bringing leaders of color together from Buffalo and Chicago for dialogue and sharing.
Karen was instrumental in the development of the Oishei Fellowship for Leaders of Color in 2019 in partnership with the California-based Rockwood Leadership Institute. The program provides personal and professional leadership training to select nonprofit professionals of color through Rockwood’s Art of Leadership training program. Designed to address a significant gap in leaders of color in the nonprofit sector in WNY, fellows are chosen through a competitive application process and participate in an intensive five-day retreat designed to fortify personal and organizational skills. Participants from the first two cohorts have called the program “transformational” and “life-changing.”
Karen’s work in racial equity has also been noted with an honorary lifetime membership in the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo’s Communities of Giving Legacy Initiative® (CGLI).
She was also honored by the group in 2019 as a recipient of the Pay it Forward Award and noted as instrumental in creating the Emerging Philanthropists of Color (EPC) program, a unique giving circle that offers its members mentorship and networking opportunities as well as an understanding of personal philanthropy. On June 10th, Karen will be recognized by the Women of Color Summit as a “leader advocating for ‘Racial Equity’ across systems through the development of programs and trainings for nonprofit leaders of color in WNY.”
Karen has also been integral in the Oishei Leaders program, an initiative begun by Oishei colleagues Paul Hogan and Blythe Merrill in 2007. Thrice annually, Oishei Leaders, now numbering more than 120, gather to connect, renew, and recharge in the informal and restorative setting of Beaver Hollow Conference Center. There, dialogue, relationships, and ideas coalesce in enriching and unforeseen ways to strengthen the nonprofit ecosystem.
A museum professional prior to joining the Foundation, Karen began her career at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, in curatorial, public relations, and editorial work. She moved to Buffalo in 1976 and joined the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, where she established the Gallery’s first publications office. During the 36 years that Karen was at the Albright-Knox, she served in a leadership role in virtually every aspect of museum practice. As Deputy Director–and Interim Director–she supervised seven departments, served as lead for the museum’s eighteen-month reaccreditation process, and worked closely with the 36-member board of directors, with a special focus on governance and strategic/master planning.
During a nonprofit career that has spanned fifty years, Karen’s community service activities in and outside the region have included serving in leadership positions on the boards, advisory/campaign councils, and search committees of numerous nonprofits, public and independent schools, as well as faith-based institutions.
Pictured above: Karen with Board Chair Bill Gisel, President Robert Gioia and her Foundation colleagues.