Reflections - A Few Grateful Thoughts as I Step Down as CEO

by Marsha Cowan | Dec 04, 2017
It was September 1993. I remember walking into a meeting room at the YMHA on Hargrave – it was my first meeting as President of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba. 

Then, like now, the Foundation attracted skilled and dedicated volunteers to sit around the Board table. I confess to being nervous as I held the gavel for the first time, until one esteemed Board member broke the ice. 

“Hey look,” he said. “Our very own Kim Campbell!” 

Campbell had just been elected as Canada’s first woman Prime Minister, and I was the first woman to chair the JFM board. We all laughed – including me – and I settled into the greatest volunteer position I have ever had (and it was a term that lasted longer than Prime Minister Campbell’s!).

In 2005, I was invited to become the Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer following David Cohen’s retirement. Those were very big shoes to fill, but I accepted the challenge. As I write this, I am in my final weeks as the Foundation’s senior executive. 

After 13 years in this position, I am proud to say that every day still feels new and exciting. Serving as CEO has been a great gift in my life, and, yes, I am sad to step down. But my sadness is tempered by three things: 

First, I will still be staying on at the Foundation in a part-time development role where I will continue working directly with some of our fundholders. 

Second, I can look back on my career at the Foundation with a sense of satisfaction. Many great things have happened at the Foundation since 2005. Our assets surpassed $100 million; our Endowment Book of Life program reached 800 participants; more Jewish organizations have opened organizational endowment funds; and new fund matching programs have connected donors and organizations in exciting ways. I can’t take all of the credit for these accomplishments, but I do take pride in them. 

The third thing that tempers my sadness is perhaps the most significant one. Research has shown that feeling grateful can help you feel happy. Well, if it’s true that gratitude leads to happiness, consider me to be one happy woman! 

As CEO, I have worked with Board members whose passion for the community runs deep and whose talent runs even deeper. I have led staff teams who care so much about their work. I have met and learned from professionals and volunteers from leading foundations and non-profits across Canada. I have built meaningful relationships with donors who are proud to share their philanthropic dreams and then use the Foundation to fund them. 

And, as CEO, I have heard stories – virtually every day for the last 13 years – about how the Foundation has changed lives and enhanced the community. I am grateful for the relationships, the challenges, and the exceptional acts of philanthropy that I have witnessed. I am grateful for the wisdom and foresight of the Foundation’s founders and the example set by my predecessors, Izzy Peltz and David Cohen. And I am grateful for the opportunity to serve my beloved community in my beloved city. 

And because I am grateful, I am happy. Thank you all. Happy Hanukkah.