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June 13, 2022

CEO of Greater Worcester Community Foundation quits after five months

Photo | Courtesy of Greater Worcester Community Foundation Jim Ayres, former president and CEO of Greater Worcester Community Foundation, who left after five months

Jim Ayres, the president and CEO of the $200-million Greater Worcester Community Foundation, resigned from his role on Friday, becoming GWCF's second leader in just over a year to make an abrupt exit from the organization.

Photo | Brad Kane
Barbara Fields, former president & CEO of Greater Worcester Community Foundation, who left after 19 months

Ayres submitted his resignation on June 3, and his last day was Friday, said GWCF Board Chairman Christopher Collins on Monday. The departure came almost five months exactly after Ayres started in the role, on Jan. 3.

Ayres took over the permanent president and CEO role from Barbara Fields, who made her own abrupt exit from GWCF with her immediate resignation on March 22 after 19 months in the job. The leadership void after Fields' resignation was filled by then Board Chairwoman Carolyn Stempler, who was interim CEO until Ayres assumed the role.

File Photo
Ann Lisi, who retired as president and CEO of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation after leading it from 1992 to 2019

The struggle in keeping a permanent CEO came after GWCF was led by Ann Lisi for nearly 30 years. Lisi had been with the foundation since 1989 and its leader since 1992 before retiring in 2019.

Ayres' departure was not the result of any financial malfeasance or anything that would impact GWCF's assets or ability to distribute funds annually to various Central Massachusetts nonprofits, Collins said. The resignation was a personnel matter, and Collins said he couldn't provide any further details.

Collins did say the reasons for Ayres' departure were completely separate from the reasons for Fields' departure, which was never fully disclosed either. The abrupt resignations of both CEOs after short tenures were not the result of a large systemic problem within GWCF, said Collins, but rather individual issues with the two people. 

"The one thing that it has shown us is we do have good individuals leading the day-to-day efforts of the foundation," Collins said. "That gives me hope for the future."

Courtesy Photo
Lawyer Christopher Collins, who chairs the board of directors of the Greater Worcester Community Foundation

For the immediate future, the foundation will be lead by three vice presidents: Kelly Stimson, vice president of donor services and relations; Diane Allain, vice president of finance and administration; and Jonathan Cohen, vice president of programs and strategy. All three will lead their individual divisions and report directly to the executive committee of the board of directors.

The board soon will decide if it wants to appoint an interim CEO until a permanent replacement is found, Collins said. That decision will include how to approach the effort in finding a permanent replacement. When the board hired Ayres and Fields, it used separate executive search firms and then vetted the top candidates before making an offer.

"We don't want to do anything rash now," Collins said. "We want to develop the best system for picking the next CEO."

The GWCF community fund surpassed $200 million in assets for the first time last year, according to its annual report. Collins said that amount fluctuates with the volatility in the stock markets this year.

For the next CEO, Collins is hopeful the board can find someone who can build a long tenure with the organization, staying at least 10 years or more. That next CEO must understand the funding priorities of the foundation must evolve as the priorities of the Central Massachusetts community change over time, as well as the role GWCF plays in supporting nonprofits and creating a healthy, viable community.

"The foundation is really a pillar in the importance of the community," Collins said.

The next CEO must lead the strong staff, work well with the board, understand the need to pivot to meet the emerging community needs, and be savvy on how to best invest the foundation's assets in order to keep the grant amounts for the region's nonprofits at a strong level, Collins said.

"Our board is really resolute to get our leadership issue right," he said.

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June 15, 2022

Two in this short of time? Not normal.

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