Know Your Neighbors: Kristin Carlson Vogen of the OPRF Community Foundation

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There are many types of people that live in OPRF. We have “nine-to-fivers,” bartenders, students, artists, governmental employees, teachers, and entrepreneurs. In addition to those folks you can’t forget about the doctors, lawyers, philanthropists, and small business owners that both live and work here.

But a person’s job title isn’t everything they are; it’s simply the tip of the iceberg in getting to know somebody. That’s why this article is titled the way it is. We want to give you the opportunity to meet Kristin Carlson Vogen in her own words. She’s the President & CEO of the OPRF Community Foundation but also a mother, wife, and resident of River Forest for the past 13 years.

Around Oak Park
Please tell us a little about yourself such as where you are from.

Kristin Carlson Vogen
My family and I have lived in River Forest for 13 years and in the Chicago Metro area for 18 years.  My husband, Shawn, and I moved here from Omaha where he was obtaining his graduate degree, but we were both raised in the western suburbs of Minneapolis and identify as being “from Minnesota.”  I earned my J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul Minn., and my BBA in Human Resource Management from Abilene Christian University – but I met my husband at St. Olaf, where I attended my freshman year of college.  We have three children: Bjorn (16 years-old and Junior at OPRFHS), Kaitlin (14 years-old and Freshman at OPRFHS), and Mara (9 years-old and 4th grader at Lincoln Elementary).

AOP
What do you like to do in your free time?

Vogen
Free time?!  What is that?  My two favorite places are my front porch where family and friends gather and I can watch and interact with neighbors; and traveling with my family – anywhere.  We often take road trips and celebrate the off-road stops along the way, meeting new people and learning about their experiences – especially artisans.  I enjoy reading – especially historical fiction.  I’m finishing Ken Follett’s ‘Century’ trilogy, but honestly do not want it to come to an end, so have been reading books by Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian author of murder mysteries, and I just completed a book by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman, “A Man Called Ove.

AOP
It is our understanding that you were previously in banking. What made you decide to make the switch to a philanthropic organization like the OPRF Community Foundation?

Vogen
I began my career, after graduating law school, as Associate Director, Planned Giving, for the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Foundation.  It is this position that brought us to Chicago.  After six years, I moved to The Private Bank at Bank of America, now U.S. Trust, and worked for 11 years in the philanthropic management group.  The first seven years as a Philanthropic Relationship Manager where I worked with our high net worth clients on their philanthropic passions and helped them create plans, often private foundations and donor advised funds.  I also worked with our nonprofit clients on their endowment management.

The last four years at Bank of America were spent as a Philanthropic Specialist.  By that point the Bank had acquired Merrill Lynch.  I helped Merrill Lynch Financial Advisors and U.S. Trust Advisors understand the complexities of nonprofit management so they could better serve their clients – both individual and institutional.  I covered an 11-state region, so was on the road quite a bit.  I had always wanted to return to my roots in the social impact – otherwise known as nonprofit – sector, but wasn’t sure how or when.  My husband saw the article in the Wednesday Journal about the departure of my predecessor at the Community Foundation and suggested I throw my name in the hat.  Frankly, I wasn’t looking for a move, but my skill set and background seemed to be appropriate for the needs of the organization at the moment – so in went my name!  And here I am, just over one year later – working in my community, OUR community, to encourage everyone to complete the sentence, “I want to make a difference in the world by . . .” and help them fulfill that statement.

AOP
Can you summarize what the OPRF Community Foundation does?

Vogen
We have three primary aspects of our business: we enable and encourage residents to be philanthropic; we provide financial and informational resources to our area social impact (nonprofit) organizations; and we ensure that our community and our nonprofit providers are sustainable for the long term.  Basically, we help individuals create and fulfill their philanthropic plans – here and elsewhere – and exist as the community hub for giving to our local organizations, now and into the future.

AOP
What are your day-to-day responsibilities as President & CEO of the OPRF Community Foundation?

Vogen
I have the pleasure of working with an incredible staff.  Through them, we are able to fulfill and respond to the many inquiries that we receive, and generate significant interest in and through our fantastic Board of Trustees.  I spend a lot of time every day meeting with individuals from our community.  Some are the leaders of our amazing institutions, others are business owners who are trying to learn how they can give back with impact.  My favorites, however, are meeting with donors.  The excitement and love they have for our community is strong and infectious.

AOP
How can the community get involved in your work?

Vogen
Well, the short answer, of course, is give!  The work we do – both directly and through the grants we make – is not possible without the financial generosity of our community.  Through our staff we are answering the need from the organizations to provide more Impact Excellence sessions where we bring in experts from the field to speak on a particular topic such as building a diverse board, how to measure impact, or how to create a successful volunteer program.

We learned from our Live & Give Survey that many residents feel there are too many organizations with similar missions within our community.  We learned that residents don’t really understand how their financial gifts may make a difference for local communities.  We learned that there is a desire by our residents to give more – both financially and through volunteering – but they don’t know how.  We know from our local agencies – some of whom make do on only a handful of employees – that some do not have the bandwidth to build a robust volunteer plan.  Our response for all of these learnings is through our Impact Excellence series.  Gifts for the work, inquiring about how residents can provide for their favorite charities through a fund, or explore what needs there are in our community are all ways to be involved.

AOP
What do you like best about working in the communities of Oak Park and River Forest as opposed to taking a similar role in a different village or suburb?

Vogen
Well, given that I have lived in River Forest for 13 years, am raising our children here, truly love our community, and wasn’t actively pursuing a job change, my landing at the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation is more about giving back to my community.  There are few other similar positions that I would even consider taking.  For me, it is about taking the expertise I have honed over the past several years and making it work here, in the community where I live.

AOP
What is your biggest accomplishment to date as President & CEO of the OPRF Community Foundation?

Vogen
That is probably a better question for others to answer.  However, there are three highlights I can name.

One is our Live & Give Survey.  The inception of the idea was brought to me from the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society.  We picked it up to make it truly community wide, and worked closely with The Halverson Group, who conducted the survey and assessed its results pro bono!!

Next, the series of On the Table Conversations we held on May 12.  We generated significant conversation that dovetailed from the responses we received from the Live & Give Survey.

Finally, are the three giving groups that have formed this year.  The Women Leaders in Philanthropy, in celebration of their 20th anniversary, this year created a fund to which sustaining and new members will contribute.  Half of what is raised each year will be distributed to causes determined by the members.  NextGen Leaders in Philanthropy provides a learning forum for young professionals seeking a way to provide impact to organizations – specifically through grants for staff development.  Entrepreneur Leaders in Philanthropy is described above.  In sum, entrepreneurs and business owners pool their resources to provide a $50,000 grant to fund the best Big Idea to transform Oak Park and River Forest, selected through an in person presentation.

AOP
Are there any projects you have coming up that you are particularly proud to be a part of?


Vogen
The Entrepreneur Leaders in Philanthropy Call for the Big Idea is particularly fun.  The excitement from the business owners and the positive response from the community so far are excellent.  Annually we distribute our Community Grants on the third Thursday of October – Thanksgiving in October.  This year I’m excited that we will host all of our grantees and feature a film of our two-year grantees that is produced by a recent OPRFHS graduate, Ellie Vanderwell.  Frankly, however, it is the smaller projects that get me excited.  When a family approaches us and wants to provide for our community, but isn’t sure exactly how, we can work with them to identify the best way for them to accomplish their goals.  Each of those projects means a significant amount to the individuals involved, and THAT is very worthwhile.

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