Jennifer Grondahl, 39

0 Posted by - September 29, 2014 - 2014, Sarasota-Manatee 2014

President, YMCA Foundation of Sarasota

There was a time when Jennifer Grondahl’s dream job was White House press secretary.

She loved the idea of working with others to solve issues that impact people and families —the science side of politics. It was in her DNA, too, given her parents were politically active in Ohio, where she grew up. Her dad was even a city councilman. “Politics has always been a part of my life,” she says.

Grondahl was on her way for while. She took a job with a Washington, D.C.-based public policy and lobbying organization right after college. She worked on ballot initiatives with organizations in other states, mostly on fiscal and policy issues.

Grondahl loved the work, but, after a move to Florida, she also saw opportunities in event planning and marketing. She started her own company, Maestro Marketing Events. The Sarasota-based business grew into one of the most recognized event planning firms in Florida. Clients ranged from Sarasota to Naples to Miami, where Grondahl organized events for a host of public and private entities, including several prominent nonprofit organizations.

One of those clients was the YMCA Foundation in Sarasota, which oversees fundraising and endowments for the Sarasota YMCA. Grondahl had a passion for the Y, and its mission, and getting a peek at the inner workings made her value it more. So when the foundation board approached her in 2013 about replacing longtime president and CEO Karin Gustafson, who had retired, Grondahl knew it was a unique career opportunity.

White House press secretary, it appears, will have to wait a little bit longer. “I’ve worked with so many different nonprofit organizations and the Y Foundation is one that is really, truly there to help kids,” says Grondahl. “It’s so contagious.”

— Mark Gordon

Q&A

City of residence: Bradenton

Birthplace: Hudson, Ohio

Years on the Gulf Coast: I have been coming to Longboat Key since I was a baby because my parents had a property there, but I have officially been living here full time since 2001.

Marital status/children: Married to Paul for 10 years, no children.

Alma mater: Bethany College, Bethany, W.Va.

Best place to network: I actually love to network at AFP, the Association of Fundraising Professionals because I learn a lot from my peers and from experts in specific fields that I handle. Also, I’m more of a natural relationship person and I think “networking” happens every day and when you least expect it.

Coolest business experience: Probably the coolest experience was back in 2000 (in my prior political work life) when I followed the presidential candidates for a month during the New Hampshire Primaries — to every part of the state in really, really cold weather. I learned a lot about each candidate behind the scenes and it was just fun work.

The most important business lesson I’ve learned: Always do what is right/stand on principle, no matter what.

One website that makes your job easier: theonion.com because without humor/laughing I can’t get through any day or any difficult situation. We have very serious/pressure-filled lives and in my opinion everyone needs to stop and laugh at nonsense.

One community group you’re most involved with: The Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch. I’ve been a member for 10+ years and I look forward to it every week. I love our members; I love the real difference we make in our community/the world and most of all. I love what Rotary stands for: Service Above Self.

Favorite off-hours activity: I work to travel!  I love to travel. I also love to cook/entertain people in my home.

Two people, dead or alive, you’d like to have dinner with: Definitely paella with my Dad who just passed two weeks ago and my Husband Paul. He is the smartest, kindest person I know and my Dad loved him like a son so that would be a good night for all of us.

Best award you ever received:  The Stephen J. Garber Memorial Award “In recognition of exceptional leadership and dedicated service to the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch.” Steve was the founder of our club and really just a very special person. Our club is full of leaders who dedicate themselves to the greater good so it meant a great deal to me to receive this particular honor.

Most adventurous thing you’ve ever done: Definitely moving to D.C. three days after graduating from college to start my first job without knowing anyone.  I rented an apartment sight unseen and had no furniture, no car, no money — just a great Mom who at least ordered a mattress for me!

What’s at the top of your bucket list: Definitely to visit every country

What new skill would you like to learn:  I have played the piano since I was 5 but I would really like to learn to play the guitar. I never seem to have time for the lessons I need.

Who would play you in a movie about your life: Lucy Van Pelt

If I had a magic wand I’d: Require every person on the planet to get involved in a charitable pursuit of some kind. Rich, poor; young, old helping with a small need or big need; a local cause or a global cause –whatever moves them. With this two things would happen: First every person would actually recognize they have something special to share with someone because every person — regardless of their circumstance — has some skill, talent or resource that will be meaningful to someone else. People are so down on themselves so just the exercise of reflecting and recognizing your own ability in itself would be positive. And second, someone would benefit.

This practice would go on and on for eternity.  To me this would be truly amazing and world-changing. (I’m sorry, I can’t be brief on this one; you don’t get a wand every day!!)

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