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Resignation of Community Foundation chief Kate Nielsen takes many by surprise

Head of organization that distributes millions of dollars in grants will go out on top, activists say.


Kate Nielsen.JPG

Kate Nielsen, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, announced she will retire at the end of the year. (File)


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Kate Nielsen, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, will retire at the end of the year after 13 years serving as just the fourth president in the foundation’s 54-year history.

The foundation’s board will meet late next month to begin planning a search to find a successor. Nielsen announced her resignation this morning, saying the foundation, which donates millions of dollars to metro area charities, has a strong staff and leadership.

“My goal has always been for the Community Foundation to continue to grow,” she said. “Right now we are at a particularly strong place. Our reputation is very strong.”

The announcement caught some beneficiaries of the foundation’s grants off guard.

“This knocks me off my feet,” said David Dionne, executive director of Red Mountain Park. “Kate has done a fantastic job. She’s been absolutely brilliant.”

Red Mountain Park has received about $5 million in assistance through the foundation, but Nielsen was far more involved than just helping the park raise funds, Dionne said. She introduced Dionne, who moved to Birmingham to run the park, to potential benefactors and helped him learn the landscape of the city’s philanthropic community, he said. While it typically takes about 20 years to move a park such as Red Mountain Park from idea to reality, the process was much faster because of her leadership and assistance.

“Kate Nielsen is one of the reasons I moved from Baltimore, Md., to Birmingham,” Dionne said. “She’s given us more than money. She’s given us good advice.”

When Nielsen joined the foundation as its first development officer in 1995 the organization had $38 million in assets. Today it has about $169 million in assets, and Nielsen is credited for much of that growth.

“We have been fortunate to have a leader with Kate’s insight, inspiration and community knowledge,” board chairman Robert Holmes Jr. said in a prepared statement. “We wish her the best as she plans the next chapter in her life.”

Nielsen said she will remain at the foundation through 2013, or perhaps longer if it’s necessary to ensure a smooth transition. After her departure she will remain active in the community, she said.

“I will always stay involved in this community that I love,” she said.

Founded in 1959, the foundation today is composed of more than 440 charitable funds that average $306,000 in assets and benefit causes in Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair, Blount and Walker counties. The largest of the funds is valued at about $20 million.

Among its more recent grants and projects, the foundation:

–Widened the geographic scope of the area it usually serves by awarding more than $3.6 million in grants to assist 630 families in 30 counties that were devastated by the tornadoes of April, 2011.

–Created the Prize2theFuture contest that solicited ideas for the redevelopment of a parking lot near Railroad Park.

–Provided a $1 million seed grant to help create Railroad Park and Red Mountain Park, and make improvements to Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve.

–Provided staff and seed grants to help the Health Action Partnership win about $14 million in national grants for its healthy kids programs.

The foundation is unique in part because about a third of its assets are held in funds that allow for great flexibility in how they are used. Of 700 community foundations nationwide, the foundation ranked 81st for gifts received, 75th for market value, and 60th for grants awarded with $14.9 million awarded in 2011, the most recent year for which data was available.

As word of her planned retirement made its way around Birmingham today, Nielsen, who is 58 “and a half,” said she fielded calls from friends who were concerned that she might be ill.

“I’m not sick,” she said, laughing. “I’m exhausted, but I’m not sick.”

Cancer cure car tags pass $2 milllion mark for research

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Alabama car tags aimed at raising money for research at Children's of Alabama hospital have reached a milestone — $2 million, the hospital reported today. The Curing Childhood Cancer license tag was introduced in 2004 to fund pediatric cancer research at The Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at the hospital. For every $50…


cancer cartag.jpg Car tags can be personalized with up to five letters.




 

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Alabama car tags aimed at raising money for research at Children’s of Alabama hospital have reached a milestone — $2 million, the hospital reported today.

The Curing Childhood Cancer license tag was introduced in 2004 to fund pediatric cancer research at The Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at the hospital.

For every $50 fee for the specialty tag, $41.25 is donated. (This is on top of usual registration fees.)

More than 12,000 children are diagnosed with some form of cancer every year, including about 150 in Alabama, the hospital reports. Children’s currently has 300 patients in treatment.

Car tags can be purchased at any Alabama DMV office and may be personalized with up to five letters.

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