Dora Anim: Giving Reimagined
We huddled around a table at Fountain Square amid the usual noise to find out what has driven Dora, chief operating officer at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, to all that she has accomplished. As a vibrant guitarist played and groups of friends chatted nearby, we carried on a lively conversation surrounding our communities and the strategies for addressing those that need more attention. Dora is oftentimes at the center of the community both in her professional role and personal growth experiences, but that doesn’t stop her from taking a step back to the behind the scenes action of it all.
Tell us about yourself.
I'm Dora Anim. I've been at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation for about two years. I was selected as the first chief operating officer, so there has not been another in that role. I was really recruited for the transformation of the organization, the growth to build an operational structure that allows that to happen. Before that, I was at the Health Collaborative for 14 years and I evolved there through multiple roles up to the senior level.
I started my career as a consultant right out of graduate school. I was recruited by a management consulting firm working on process improvement and efficiency. It was exciting, and I did that job for four years. It was a great platform for my career because it taught me to be versatile and nimble. I had to work in different industries and jumped around basically from company to company. I was only 22, so I had to learn how to build trust with the clients and to tell people two to three times my age how to do what they were doing. I learned how to put relationships first and how to be flexible.
What was the transition like when you went from that role into a philanthropic role?
I think it's an interesting transition. It's all nonprofit, except the management consulting, and there are a lot of similarities in that. Nonprofits are lean – not a lot of operating funds – so you have to wear many hats. You have to be really creative in how you get your work done. It's a great platform for someone who wants to try new things, work in different departments, build your skills.
There are people left behind who are living in poverty in a city that's top 10 in the country of giving and generosity, but we're also top 10 in poverty.
Philanthropy is a little bit different because it's a very specialized sector that has a model that has been around for a long time. There's a lot of change going on in the field, which is exciting. But, there's also a lot of things that are really set in stone. It's a lot more complex and technical than people may think. It's very transactional; we operate like a bank. It's relationship driven, but also takes strategy, data, and analysis because we award grants. We need to understand what the needs are in the community to focus our investments in an impactful way. What's fascinating about it is that the foundation touches every sector of the community, every industry, in some form. It's interesting to get to work with banks, nonprofits, and other funders from the corporate sector. You're at the center of the community, which is a great platform to try to influence or raise awareness around certain issues for audiences that otherwise may not care about them.
What is unique to Cincinnati and what the Greater Cincinnati Foundation is doing with the relationships you're building?
We hear this a lot nationally that [Cincinnatians have] an interesting relationship with each other. It's a very collaborative city; it's a big city with a small town feel. A lot of nonprofits know each other and are open to collaborating and working together; they don't tend to compete. It's funny when you have an event that has a lot of nonprofits; it's almost like a family reunion because everyone knows each other and hugs each other. It's hard to quiet the room down because everyone genuinely likes each other. I think it's great, because even when I was in healthcare, people nationally would say Cincinnati has a unique way of bringing competitors together towards a common goal, and that collaboration is not something you find everywhere. It gives you a great platform to try new, innovative things.
At the same time, it's an interestingly traditional city. We don't always know which way people will go depending on what the issues are. We're in a community where there's a lot of growth and progress and opportunity, but not everybody's a part of it. There are people left behind who are living in poverty in a city that's top 10 in the country of giving and generosity, but we're also top 10 in poverty. We have children who are going to school hungry and families who are spending almost all of their income on where they live. There's a lot of interesting and challenging and concerning statistics that we want to care about. We feel like with our opportunity and access to the community, we can really raise awareness and mobilize around some of those issues.
I know that you're involved in Leadership Cincinnati, an immersive civic learning program put on by the Chamber of Commerce, and I'm wondering what made you want to become a part of that.
It is the leadership program that everyone aspires to – it's the ultimate. I was fortunate enough to do all the leadership programs through the Chamber, so from C-Change on. Leadership Cincinnati was the last one that I needed to get under my belt. I felt my entire career has led to the opportunity to do that. It brings together really seasoned leaders, mostly at the executive level, but it gives people a chance to activate around an issue by using their experience and resources to drive change in the community.
What kind of experiences have you had through that that have stuck with you?
It's hard to capture it all in one. It was a great overview on what's great about a city and what the opportunities are. There were a lot of gaps and dysfunctions that were highlighted that you don't necessarily think about. We had a session around the relationship Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have, the excess of resources due to jurisdiction. So many services live in a small mile radius and it seems wasteful.
We talked a lot about race issues and how the experience that people have in this community, and even nationally, is not the same depending on their race. We went deep on the racial disparities and the issues surrounding that. We got to see different aspects of community and learn more about opportunities that we have.
How many grants do you give every year?
It varies. We award about $75-80 million a year. The majority of the funds that we award in grants come from our donors; our donors tell us where they want them to go. That's basically our primary business. The small percentage that we decide where it goes primarily are funds that are donor-advised. I think that it's interesting to think about: We award all of these grants and we're not making progress. We're giving and giving and giving, but it's not moving the dial, so there's something broken with our system. It's going to take a little bit of a different way of working to solve some of the issues with poverty and disparity.
Holding people accountable, maybe?
Holding people accountable, but also a different solution. It's all about empowerment and trust, not judgment and [negativity]. We're really excited about things like the Family Independence Initiative – an investment we made over four years – because it's a different model. It's about trust and empowering families in an accelerated way to get out of poverty by giving them the social and financial capital to make decisions that are best for them without us telling them. That's the challenge that you see. A lot of programs prescribe what needs to happen for families, and this would allow them to choose.
It's not growth for the sake of growing, but growth for the sake of impact and impacting more lives and to be the driving foundation nationally that has figured out how to solve some of these issues.
It's going to take different ways of working to break this, because it's not working. Understanding some of the systemic issues that are a part of the problem and why the systems that are holding people down keeps them in poverty unless we understand we might not be able to find the right solutions… It's not new for the foundation to think about those things. We've been working on these issues for a long time, but we're going to be more intentional and go deeper into them. It's a national conversation. Other foundations and funders are thinking about those things and working differently. So things are shifting.
What was the purpose of creating the COO role?
The foundation had a great leader for close to 20 years that built the external image and the “foundation foundation,” if you will. The new CEO brought on three years ago has a vision for what the next GCF looks like, or the next evolution of it. With her vision, she realized that she couldn't really achieve the growth that she wanted without some more internal focus on systems acknowledging culture, strategy, tracking of data, metrics. Those are things that had not really been intentionally focused on before. She realized that she needed a resource to get that infrastructure in place, because we want to do things like grow our donor base intentionally, diversify our donors, grow our assets, be more impactful in our grants – all of those things take a different level of data gathering and decision making. We're more growth minded, which allows us to make more impact in the community. It's not growth for the sake of growing, but growth for the sake of impact and impacting more lives and to be the driving foundation nationally that has figured out how to solve some of these issues. We really want to be a leader nationally and be painted as a pioneer in different ways. That big, bold vision needed some internal intention, and that role didn't exist before. Everyone was kind of doing their own thing and worrying about their own department; it needed more coordination.
It's cool to be the first and only; so far, I get to make it up! [Laughs.] I can set the bar, which I like.
Tell us about an influential woman in your life.
That's tricky. I'm really lucky because I've always worked for really strong women. Since my career at the consulting firm and my nonprofit career, every leader that I've had has been a woman that I've learned something from.
I have to start with my mom. She's no longer with us, but she was a strong influence. She had a balance between compassion and strength that I have not seen in anyone else. That's what I aspire to be. She was very kind and generous, but a strong businesswoman who knew how to take care of business and raise six children.
There's a lot of women out there who I just think are fearless. So I don't have one particular woman. But I admire women who can balance personal life and career and be an example to children and the next generation. The fact that women are thriving and taking over and working really hard… They're really changing the world right. It's the time of women and finding your voice and using it for good.