After nearly 50 years holding leadership roles in the philanthropic sector at powerhouses like Metropolitan Family Services, The Nature Conservancy, Goodman Theatre, and The John Marshall Law School – Rhona Frazin will be retiring as President and & CEO of the Chicago Public Library Foundation this April, after dedicating the last 14 years of her career to the organization.
Her Vision for the Foundation
By any estimation, 50 years in a dedicated field and 14 years of service to Chicago’s families deserves gratitude and respect. We recently had a chance to sit down with Rhona, and ask her what made it such an easy decision to work at the Chicago Public Library Foundation.
“I didn’t come in with a vision” she chuckled, “I came in with a passion.”
On Rhona and the Foundation
Rhona‘s strategic leadership has launched the Foundation to new levels of success, both in fundraising and reputation. Her zeal attracted a highly engaged Board of Directors, and greatly expanded the Foundation’s base of individual, corporate, and foundation support. Under her leadership, the Foundation has also consistently earned a “4-Star” rating from Charity Navigator, the nation’s largest and most-used charity evaluator. “The Library is the most democratic of all our institutions,” Rhona explained. “It’s there for everyone without regard to income, age, race, or immigration status… and that must be cherished.”
In addition to building greater transparency, Rhona is a driving force behind the Foundation’s largest annual fundraiser, the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner – which raised a record-breaking $1.9M for the Library and Foundation in 2017, and was acclaimed by Crain’s Chicago Business as “the smartest event in town.” Foundation Board President Bob Wislow noted that Frazin “is leaving the Foundation in the strongest financial condition in its history.”
Rhona the Bibliophile
Rhona is a self-described life-long book lover, and we had to ask about her biggest literary highlight of the past 14 years. Turns out it was just last October! “This was a bucket list year for me,” Rhona started. “Because we honored Margaret Atwood at the Carl Sandburg Literary Award Dinner.” Before the advent of easy, international book distribution, Frazin reminisces, “I used to vacation in rural Canada each summer in the early 70s and stock up on books by Canadian authors. I must have devoured everything she has written. Of course honoring Stephen Sondheim was a real thrill, as well.”
Although many books line her office walls, Rhona admits her favorite authors come from equal parts love and admiration. “Many of my favorite authors are winners of the Library and Foundation‘s Carl Sandburg Literary Award” she said. “Not only are they phenomenal writers but they’re phenomenal people and wonderfully generous with their time and talents”
Her Hopes for the City
Before she leaves us we wanted to know, If there was just one thing, you wished the people of Chicago knew about the Foundation, what would it be? “That we’re here!” she exclaimed! “That we’re here and that while your tax dollars go a long way towards supporting the Library’s outstanding facilities and staff, because of the Foundation, and people like you, the Library can continue to be a global leader in programming and innovation.”
Rhona also left us with a reflection. “When I first signed on to the Chicago Public Library Foundation, we were largely unknown in the philanthropic, civic and corporate communities,” she said. “It was really quiet…too quiet. But through the generosity of our donors, we’ve made the importance of private support for the Library, just a little bit noisier.”
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