October is Women’s History month in Canada, highlighting the contributions and noticeable impacts women have made throughout history. For the Niagara Community Foundation, our roots were established by some incredible women within Niagara who shared a passion for the community and had a vision for the legacy of Niagara to far extend past their reach. Liz Palmieri was the founding Executive Director of NCF in 2000 and it was thanks to her drive and commitment – along with the many other women around her – that NCF built the solid foundation on which we stand today.
Throughout our 22 year history, NCF has been shaped and molded by many women, whether they were ambassadors, volunteers, staff or consultants. It is thanks to the women of Niagara that NCF is a leader within the philanthropic sector today. One of these women is Ruth Todd.
Ruth is a Partner with KPMG and has been a volunteer with NCF for just shy of a decade. Ruth was first appointed to the Foundation’s Board of Directors in 2015 and quickly joined the Investment Committee and became NCF’s Treasurer in 2016. In 2018, Ruth was appointed Vice Chair, taking the helm as Board Chair in 2019. In 2021 Ruth passed on the torch and became Past Chair. During her tenure on the Foundation’s Executive she has served as Chair of both the Governance and Nominating Committees. Her contributions are countless and her leadership second to none. We asked Ruth for a few reflections as she completes her tenure. Read her interview below.
How did you get involved with NCF?
I moved into the Niagara area to take over the lead for our KPMG office in St. Catharines in 2009. I had previously been involved on a casual basis helping as a volunteer with Hamilton Community Foundation, so I was very aware of community foundations and their mandate. One of my earliest meetings after moving to KPMG St. Catharines was a visit from Liz Palmieri letting us know about the foundation and the work they were doing. From there, Liz and I kept meeting each other at community events until that day when we seriously started chatting about me joining the foundation, and the rest is history!
October is Women’s History Month and NCF has a long legacy of women who have been formative in shaping the foundation. Tell me a bit about a few of them?
Such wonderful women have been involved with the foundation – to name a few that I would call friends and colleagues are Betty Lou Souter, Liz Palmieri, Madeline Woodhead and Jody Lycett not to mention the incredible team of women at NCF- JoAnne, Orla and Suzanne. All of these women demonstrated incredible commitment not only to the foundation but to the community of Niagara in various different ways. They helped me as role models with their generosity of time and energy, but also assisting the foundation without fail for whatever the call to action was. I am so grateful for these women, and others that have gone before me to help strengthen the communities across Niagara. I feel as though NCF might have been ahead of its time as there has always been a tremendous number of women on both the board and the team, which is not necessarily true of other community organizations.
In what ways do you see women playing a role in the world of philanthropy?
Women are critical to philanthropy but the truth is, so are men! But I would say that my observation is that women approach it slightly differently. Over my career, I have seen a shift in the number of women entrepreneurs who are looking to give back to their communities and they have often done so through their philanthropic efforts. They focus on community needs they are passionate about and usually, what I see, is that they are not willing to just send funds. Many that I have worked with also want to get involved, roll up their sleeves and help alongside their financial gifting. I would also say over my career I have seen many women of wealth gain financial literacy and want to be involved with how they are leaving a legacy, which is where an organization like NCF comes in – helping them find a way to support their passions for the long term.
You will be ending your term with NCF in 2023. What’s one piece of advice you would pass on to women entering into leadership roles within the sector?
I spoke yesterday to a group of new students at KPMG that are just at the start of their careers. One of them asked me about my volunteering and whether it has added to my ability to be a better professional. I had the opportunity to share with them that I started volunteering on boards when I was just in my second year at KPMG. I think I was likely 24 years old – but over the many years and across the many great organizations that I have had the privilege to work with, I have come away richer from my experience! I hoped the organizations I was supporting are also richer.
Throughout my years, I not only learned a great deal about the communities the organizations were serving, but also the demographic they were serving in a particular community. I have also made relationships with wonderful people that I would not have met otherwise. These relationships have been key to me in many ways over the years with me learning about their skills and their “day jobs” which in turn, expanded my view of the world.
So, back to group of students, I told them to get involved! Make as many relationships around the tables you join as you can since the world is small and these connections will make you a better person but also a better professional. I would also say that no matter your walk in life, you have skills that a charity can benefit from. Find an organization that you are interested in and get involved to help them! We need as many hands as we can get to help in this era of growing needs in all corners of our communities.