Spokane Journal of Business

Shelly O’Quinn hopes to increase foundation’s visibility

INWCF manages funds valued at over $113M

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-—Kevin Blocker
Shelly O’Quinn resigned from her post as a Spokane County commissioner earlier this year to become CEO of the Inland Northwest Community Foundation, replacing a retiring Mark Hurtibise.

In taking over as CEO of the Spokane-based Inland Northwest Community Foundation, Shelly O’Quinn says she quickly realized she was going to work for an organization that wasn’t yet a household name among the communities it serves.

O’Quinn had been serving as a Spokane County commissioner since 2013 when she submitted her application for the CEO position, after outgoing CEO Mark Hurtubise announced in September of 2016 that he’d be retiring.

O’Quinn—who worked for a brief year at the foundation from 2007 to 2008 as its senior program officer securing grant money—was selected as CEO last April following a nationwide search that drew 55 applicants.

Upon accepting the position, O’Quinn says she soon found that most of her personal and professional contacts hadn’t heard much, if anything, about the organization for which she would now be working. 

“I was really surprised given the fact we’ve been here since ’74 and now serve 20 counties,” O’Quinn says. “But what this shows me is that there’s an opportunity to create visibility.”

With its administrative offices located in 4,900 square feet of space on the sixth floor of the Paulsen Center, at 421 W. Riverside, the foundation oversees targeted endowments, local grants, and scholarships.

Today, the foundation manages more than 450 funds valued at more than $113 million, which have been established by individuals, families, and businesses, the foundation says. During the 2016 fiscal year, it gave out a record high $4.9 million in grants. 

The foundation has 10 full-time employees, relies on roughly 130 volunteers, and has a 12-member board of directors. The foundation has close to 100 nonprofit partners, including organizations such as Blessings Under The Bridge and Second Harvest Food Bank of the Inland Northwest.

At the beginning of this year, the foundation partnered with Columbia Trust Bancorp., Mountain West Bank, Numerica Credit Union, Bouten Construction Co., and the University of Idaho to create a $600,000 grant to help boost literacy and reading comprehension for students in kindergarten through third grade in the Coeur d’Alene School District.

The program, called Opening Books, Opening Doors, is committed to helping students reach grade-level reading proficiency goals by 2020.

“I love the mission of the foundation,” O’Quinn says. “It was a tough decision to leave the county, but when I thought about what it is the foundation does, and how many lives it can affect, I understood this was a great opportunity.”

O’Quinn, who was born and raised here, graduated from Central Valley High School in 1993, and went on to study at Whitworth University, completing her undergraduate degree in accounting and business management there in 1997. 

After graduation, she and a friend purchased one-way tickets to Mexico and spent the next three years working and traveling across Central America, going as far south as Panama.

In Honduras, O’Quinn secured a job working as a microenterprise business developer for World Vision International, a global Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families, and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.

“Now mind you, I was not a U.S. hire, I was hired in Honduras and worked for $150 a month for the next three years. But you know what, it was a great experience,” she says.

After she returned to the U.S., she enrolled at Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif., where she earned her MBA in 2001. O’Quinn then moved to Florida, where she was hired as the missions director for a 3,000-member church.

She returned to Spokane in 2004 and worked the next three years as the director of family services for Habitat for Humanity Spokane before accepting the job as the senior program officer at the Inland Northwest Community Foundation. Her stint there lasted just 12 months.

During that time, O’Quinn met Rich Hadley, who at the time was CEO and president of Greater Spokane Incorporated.

O’Quinn recalls being in a meeting where one day, Hadley handed her a slip of paper, on which he’d written, “Do the unexpected…” she says.

“The wealth of knowledge and relationships that I developed there was immeasurable. I hadn’t planned to leave the foundation, but what it came down to was that I just wanted to work for Rich,” O’Quinn says.

Later, as a Republican, O’Quinn won her first commission seat in 2012, defeating Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase in the primary, and Democrat Daryl Romeyn, a former television news broadcaster, in the general election.

Of her failed run in 2010 for a state House of Representative seat, O’Quinn says, “I call that experience 10 months of professional development and character building. I learned a lot about myself and party politics.”

She adds, “I had two goals for myself and my supporters in that race. Regardless of whether I won or lost, I wanted to maintain my integrity, and, two, no one would ever say I didn’t work hard enough in that race. And I believed that was accomplished.”

O’Quinn says she’s come a long way since graduating from Whitworth, and her experiences have also shaped her feelings about her hometown.

“I thought Spokane had nothing to offer me. It was a one-way ticket when I left, and I had no intentions of coming back,” she says. “But it was at GSI that I realized how much I love Spokane and the (Spokane) county.”

O’Quinn says her past political experience will serve her well as CEO of the community foundation.

“I know what government can and can’t do,” O’Quinn says. “I’ve got a wide-ranging network of contacts, and I want to use those contacts to increase our visibility in the community while expanding on the existing partnerships we already have in place.”

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