“I had a social conscience from a very early age,” says Catherine Marsh, executive director of the Westchester Community Foundation (WCF). Today, 64 years old and a resident of Peekskill, Marsh has spent her entire career serving the public in one way or another, starting as an employee of Westchester County, then Putnam County, and later Volunteers of America-Greater New York and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York City, until finally she landed in her current role in 1999. Add an MS in leadership and strategic management from Manhattanville College and it’s clear Marsh is well-qualified to direct the money stashed across the 200 or so funds under WCF’s management—all of which is earmarked for charitable use and distributed to a number of different charities.
“We connect donors to agencies that are improving the lives and communities of Westchester,” explains Marsh. WCF doesn’t run programs, but rather funds them, administering donor money to nonprofits that meet certain standards and requirements set by WCF. In addition, WCF runs its own “permanent” funds, established and distributed at the discretion of WCF staff.
In all, Marsh and her team of five oversee about $45 million, paying out roughly $5 million annually to a host of organizations. Under Marsh’s tenure, the amount of money under WCF’s purview has increased dramatically. For example, the amount distributed as “competitive funds,” where nonprofits compete for grants, has doubled from $725,000 in 1998 to $1.5 million this year. Over the same period, Marsh grew The Westchester Fund for Women and Girls’ endowment from virtually nothing to $2.5 million, four times the initial goal of $500,000. And she launched the Apoyo Committee, a Hispanic-led fundraising effort that between 2005 and 2010 distributed $500,000 to Westchester agencies led by Hispanics.
“We carefully monitor our grants,” says Marsh. “And we see what difference those grants are making in the lives of people. We know that we have changed lives.”