Though it isn’t measurable by any single data point, Cynthia Gorey’s influence in leading the New Canaan Community Foundation for 14-plus years as its executive director, later president and CEO, may be sketched in terms of numbers.
NCCF was 25 years old when the organization’s Board of Directors hired Gorey as its first full-time employee, in 2002, and at the time the nonprofit oversaw about $3 million in assets in three or four separate funds, according to current board President Leo Karl III.
Today, NCCF controls a little more than $16 million, and for the last several years it’s distributed more than $1 million in annual grants, Karl said. NCCF also now counts nearly 40 separate funds—they vary from board-directed to donor-advised or agency funds set aside for nonprofits’ capital or long-term endowments—and they’re pooled and invested together.
In total, NCCF in Gorey’s tenure has distributed more than $11 million—touching people’s lives with a breadth and depth that defies calculation.
The growth is “pretty remarkable” and evidence of “a fairly amazing run,” Karl said Wednesday, hours after Gorey had notified newsletter subscribers via email that she would step down from the organization next week to take a position at a private boys’ school in Fairfield.
“She has personally grown with the foundation, her family has grown with the foundation and the foundation has grown tremendously under her thought and leadership. She is a really intelligent, smart businessperson and she put her heart and soul into our community.”
Starting July 1, Gorey will assume the role of director of development at Fairfield Country Day School—a shift to formal education that she describes as an important next phase in her career (more on that below).
Educated, diligent, articulate and driven, Gorey—mother of three and Darien resident for more than 20 years—through NCCF leaves an indelible mark on her adopted town. In 14 years, Gorey worked with her board to transform the New Canaan Community Foundation from an organization that stood rather confusingly alongside United Way into a singular and professional resource that is unquestionably the philanthropic hub of the town, and with tremendous reach.
In recent years, NCCF has supported through grant making and as a knowledgeable resource for generous donors wishing to do good projects that range widely across demographics, neighborhoods, types of programs and services. They include establishing an endowment and award at New Canaan High School honoring a beloved substitute teacher, art therapy, hospice, Young Philanthropists, fire safety, open space, wildlife and volunteer advocacy. NCCF helped “save Christmas” with an emergency grant for Merrie Bee Cabin and launched a “I [Heart] New Canaan” photo contest that aligns with its ubiquitous bumper stickers in order to spotlight what people love most about the town.
Asked to share something about New Canaan that she’s learned through her work at NCCF that some people may not realize, Gorey said that New Canaan truly “is a unique community.”
“I have never been anywhere where there are so many generous and thoughtful and caring and dedicated people … The willingness of people to step up and lead and do what their neighbors need done is truly inspirational, and I am sure that I wouldn’t have stayed for 14 years if I had not continued to be awed by the level of volunteerism at the board level and donors and just people’s commitment to make New Canaan an amazing, special community and I really don’t think that exists in any other town in Fairfield County.”
Gorey added that she has been “really privileged to see it from the inside and to be partners with many of those residents in various initiatives over the years.”
“And it has allowed the organization to grow and it has allowed me to grow professionally and it has given me the experience that I want to take beyond one town to a school of over 250 boys that hopefully one day will be philanthropic leaders themselves.”
She will remain for the next academic year as head of NCCF’s unique Young Philanthropists program. That’s one of several milestone efforts that Gorey has overseen at the organization, together with NCCF’s scholarship program and professional development group for executive directors, though what asked what she’s most proud of, she said: “That the reputation of the organization is so strong and there’s an understanding that it’s the premiere philanthropic organization in town and that if you have a question about nonprofits or charity or community service, that the Community Foundation is the place to go to learn about any of those things.”
“The grant making is greater, the contributions are greater, but it’s really at a different stature in the community, and that’s I think the best part.”
Gorey holds a master’s degree in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health and came to the New Canaan organization following many years of working with nonprofits in the healthcare field.
She said that she’s been thinking about this change “for a long time” and “I really am passionate about education.”
“I know the staff that are there [at NCCF] are amazing and are going to be able to help the board do the good work of the foundation and I leave it in their capable hands.”
Asked what happens now in terms of finding Gorey’s successor, Karl said he’s set up a search committee that includes three past board presidents—Julianne Grace, Bill Walbert and Dave Hunt—as well as Diane Hanauer, John Knight, Sharon Stevenson and himself.
With a well-grounded, financially established organization in place, outstanding staff members and a solid mission and core set of values, there’s no special rush, Karl said.
“Our goal is to find someone with passion and drive and a skill set for leading the organization with its next leg of growth, to continue the momentum,” Karl said.
The next head of NCCF will have “big shoes to fill,” and will come into an exceptionally well-run organization, he said.
“Cynthia has guided the foundation to become, in my mind, a premier nonprofit. I have had the privilege of serving on a bunch of other boards and through my work with the United Way and the Community Foundation over the years I have seen a lot of the nonprofits in action and the behind-the-scenes corporate governance that is set up at the New Canaan Community Foundation is second to none, and it’s a testament to her leadership and desire to run a really professional organization. So if there is a legacy, it’s that she leaves a very well-oiled, professional organization at every level.”