After over twenty years of dedicated service at SAFSF, Virginia Clarke has decided to step down as Executive Director and will transition out of her role at the end of December 2023.
20+ years is a phenomenal run at any organization, and Virginia’s contributions to SAFSF and the broader field cannot be overstated. SAFSF’s stature and reach has grown under Virginia’s leadership – from a staff of a single part-time coordinator with a budget of $125,000 with five supporting funders to a membership of 105 (and growing), 11 staff in eight states, and a budget of over $2 million.
My time working alongside Virginia has allowed an up-close view of her powerful leadership, and her grace and skill as a gatherer of people, organizations, and ideas. She has held the network steady through shifting tides, while consistently challenging us to lean into the most difficult questions we collectively face. SAFSF has been fortunate to have such a well-respected and sought-after expert at our helm these many years.
While it would be impossible to list Virginia’s many accomplishments during her laudable tenure as our founding executive director, I want to share a few that really highlight her strategic thinking, ability to push SAFSF into new growth areas and embodiment of connectivity and collaboration. Among her many contributions, she has:
- Never shied from hosting critical conversations around racial equity, and together with her board and staff, made important strides to operationalize more equitable practices organizationally.
- Fostered the connections and conversations that led to many significant funder collaboratives including Global Alliance for the Future of Food, Food and Farm Communications Fund, Funders for Regenerative Agriculture, and more, with reach spanning from global to regional.
- Led SAFSF’s development as the organization navigated three different fiscal sponsors before finally incorporating in 2018.
- Recruited and built a strong staff and key programs, including most recently SAFSF’s policy program.
- Established and stewarded vital partnerships linking funders working at the intersection of food, agriculture and health, including programming with issue-based philanthropy-serving organizations, like TFN, HEFN, GIH, GCIR, EGA and many, many others.
- Led work with national associations like the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, American Public Health Association and American Planning Association.
- Took us places often overlooked and under-resourced, pushing us to confront the realities of farmworker housing and health issues, communities fighting feedlots and slaughter facilities, and communities facing a lack of access to food and clean water, disproportionate exposure to environmental toxins, and economic opportunity.
Most of all, Virginia has inspired and encouraged so many of us to connect deeply and find joy in the work and each other, incorporating art, music, knitting – you name it – but most of all, laughter, into our gatherings, all while holding us collectively at the leading edge of philanthropy.
The Board shares with Virginia the goal of ensuring that SAFSF is in a strong position when it welcomes our next leader and that the transition is done with care and transparency. We have formed a Transition Committee to be led by Board members Andrew McElwaine and Mark Muller. The Transition Team is currently in the process of selecting an executive search firm to assist us with this critical process. Andrew emphasizes that he is “familiar with both the process and the opportunities afforded by this moment, and pleased and humbled to honor Virginia’s strong legacy by supporting SAFSF through a smooth transition.”
We believe this executive transition offers our network an opportunity to pause and reflect on the ways our organizational structure, staff, and membership can support our mission, vision, and core values. Our leadership is inspired by our diverse and committed membership and looking forward to working with all of you in the coming months to envision SAFSF’s future. We will be in contact with you at key moments for both input and to keep you informed of our process and decisions.
We celebrate Virginia’s vision and leadership in building and strengthening our collective work. With our deepest appreciation, please join us in expressing gratitude for Virgina’s leadership. Send her an email to share memories or sentiments.
If you have any questions regarding this announcement, please reach out to Maggie Mosley, SAFSF’s Communications Director, or one of us on the Transition Team listed below.
Leslie Hatfield, SAFSF Board Chair
Executive Director Transition Team
- Andrew McElwaine, The Heinz Endowments | Email Andrew
- Mark Muller, Regenerative Agriculture Foundation | Email Mark
- Esperanza Pallana, Food and Farm Communications Fund | Email Esperanza
- Leslie Hatfield, GRACE Communications Foundation | Email Leslie
- Stacey Barbas, The Kresge Foundation | Email Stacey