Transparency, collaboration fruits of foundation president’s values

| September 23, 2010 | 0 Comments

Catholic Community Foundation president Marilou Eldred at her desk. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Catholic Community Foundation president Marilou Eldred sums up her leadership in three words: collaborative, decisive, transparent.

And with humor, she added.

“I don’t think I could get through the day without laughing a few times,” she said.

The Catholic Community Foundation is the largest U.S. community foundation serving Catholic philanthropy. CCF does not invest with any corporations whose work contradicts the teachings of the church, and it requests that people with donor-advised funds give at least half to Catholic organizations.

“We’re very conscious of being supportive of what the church, in its many, many forms, is doing to improve the lives of people and hopefully [puts] us on our way to heaven,” she said.

When CCF trustee Gerald Brennan nominated Eldred for a Leading with Faith Award, he wrote, “It is so apparent that she is engaged in advancing the Kingdom of God through her contributions to making a number of Catholic institutions more effective in our local Catholic community.”

Eldred grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After high school, she joined the Iowa Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, where she was a sister for 10 years. It was there that she began working in college administration, and after leaving the community, she pursued a doctorate at New York University.

Eldred worked as an administrator at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul and as president of St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She became the CCF president in 2005.

“My faith and my Catholic values inform my leadership style and decision making,” she said.  “It plays out in the kind of people we hire, the way we work together as a staff as we focus on collaboration and . . . transparency.”

She added: “Because of the work that we do investing money that is really parish money, or donors’, we feel a really serious obligation not to hide anything, to be very open about what we do.”

Honesty is also key, she said. “When things are going good, it’s easy to be honest; when things are bad, there’s often the tendency to gloss over. I hope we’re being very true and direct with all the people with whom we interact,” she said.

Listening carefully

When Eldred began serving the foundation as president, she faced the challenging task of taking over from the organization’s founding president.

“I feel like CCF is advancing to the next level, and that we’ve gone from an organization somewhat in its infancy and toddlerhood, to maybe its adolescence,” she said.

“We’re not a mature organization yet,” she added, noting there is room for the foundation to continue to grow.

Eldred’s sense of ethics is clear when she explains some of the stands she’s taken on behalf of the foundation. She’s deterred a parish’s financial planner from crafting a dishonest investment scheme, and she’s been upfront with investors throughout the economic recession.

Despite budget constraints, she hasn’t laid off any staff members. Instead, CCF found other ways to cut its expenses.

Eldred has faced challenging ethical dilemmas in other institutions, she added, and her approach is always direct. “You cannot ignore a difficult situation,” she said.

“A principle I’ve always tried to live by in all decision making is [that] my absolute, first concern has to be for the good of the organization,” she added.

She also strives to listen carefully to others before judging a situation.

“Every issue has many perspectives, and you hear one person’s perspective . . . but then you investigate a little bit more and find out there are a lot of ways to look at a situation,” she said.

Today, she feels blessed to be involved with all of the donors, clergy and institutions she works with, she said. Seeing the different facets of the church at work has provided a unique vantage point, she added.

“I feel like there’s never a boring moment in this job,” she said.


  • Title: Catholic Community Foundation president.
  • Parish: Assumption, St. Paul.
  • Spouse: Don Eldred.
  • Children: Sarah Powell (married to Steve Powell).
  • Activities: Convent of the Visitation School board of directors, St. John’s University board of regents, St. Paul Seminary board of trustees, Archdiocesan Strategic Planning task force, Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.


Category: Leading With Faith