Passing the baton: The Community Foundation bids farewell to Susan Datz Edelman, VP, Strategic Communications, welcomes Stephanie Garry Garfunkel to position

Passing the baton: The Community Foundation bids farewell to Susan Datz Edelman, VP, Strategic Communications, welcomes Stephanie Garry Garfunkel to position
Susan Datz Edelman (left) will retire from her position as VP, Strategic Communications at the end of the year and will spend her remaining time at the organization working alongside and training her successor, Stephanie Garry Garfunkel (right). | Photo Courtesy Of Stephanie Garry Garfunkel

The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida (TCF) is bidding farewell to Susan Datz Edelmen, its vice president of strategic communications, as she prepares for her retirement at the end of the year after nearly a decade of service.

Stephanie Garry Garfunkel will be taking the reins from Edelman beginning Jan. 1, after a three-month transition period during which she trained with and worked alongside Edelman before officially stepping into her new role.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had the opportunity at a job to train with the person who you’re taking over for and I would say that it’s a sign of how planful The Community Foundation has been about the quality of the work, that they created the opportunity for us to overlap so I really can learn before doing it on my own,” Garfunkel said. “That’s just a testament to how seriously we take the work here.”

While Garfunkel may be new to TCF, the organization — and Edelman — are not new to her. A Boston transplant, Garfunkel moved to Jacksonville four years ago to work with the Jacksonville Public Education Fund. It was there that her path crossed with Edelman, who quickly became a mentor for her.

“[Susan] really helped guide me and steer me through understanding the local issues, understanding the local context, getting to know the media, thinking through — the blessing and the curse of communications in this day and age is there’s so many ways to do it, so you have a lot of good possibilities but you have to pick and choose when you’re a team of one, which we both have been for a lot of our time, so we’ve just found that we have a lot in common with the way that we approach the work,” she said.

According to Edelman, a “robust search” for her successor began in July, which resulted in nearly 90 applicants from Jacksonville and beyond. Once the foundation narrowed potential candidates down to a group of “all local and all fantastic…semifinalists,” it became clear that Garfunkel possessed the skills and qualities the foundation was looking for in its next vice president of strategic communications.

“I really had a wonderful selection of possibilities, but Stephanie has a quality that The Community Foundation looks for in terms of being able to be very agile, have incredible background, be able to think deeply about the strategy of communications and how it intersects with our donors, our nonprofits, the leadership position that we’ve taken in the community,” Edelman explained. “She just had exactly the right formula — equation, if you wanna be chemical about it — and yes, we knew her. We knew some of the other semifinalists as well and they’re all great people but Stephanie really had just the right alchemy to make this all happen.”

In an e-mail, TCF President Nina Waters expressed her gratitude for all the work Edelman has done as the organization’s “first full-time communications staff member:”

“…Her extensive experience in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors has been invaluable as she built and implemented a robust and successful communications strategy that has contributed significantly to the growth and impact of the Foundation,” she wrote. “As her final act, she assisted in the selection of a stellar successor in Stephanie, who will continue to build on the strong foundation that Susan created. We have been twice blessed!”

Edelman’s retirement comes during a season of change for TCF. This year, the organization has welcomed several new faces to various leadership positions. U.S. District Court Judge, the Honorable Brian J. Davis was appointed Chair of the Board of Trustees this past January. In March, Wanda J. Willis joined the organization as its new vice president of Civic Leadership. Tom Caron was promoted from his former position as Director of Donor Services to the Vice President of Donor Services in August.

The transition period will continue as Waters has announced her own plans to retire in 2023, providing the organization a year-long window to select and prepare her successor. Garfunkel said she is grateful for the opportunity to join the organization at this particular juncture.

“Change is inevitable,” she said. “No one serves in a position forever. We will accept that after all this hard work, these amazing ladies in leadership deserve their retirement. What you can do is put the organization in the best possible position for that transition and I think we’re there and I’m really really honored again to be chosen to help with this next chapter.”

To that end, TCF has been preparing as best as possible for these changes to its leadership structure as Edelman and Waters both announced their retirements. Edelman said succession planning was a factor in the organization’s recently-released Strategic Plan, ensuring the groundwork had been laid to provide as smooth a transition as possible when it was time for new leaders to step into these positions.

“The Board said, ‘We can see, looking down the road, that these things are gonna happen. How do we do this in a way that not only protects The Community Foundation that we’ve built so far but positions us so that we can grow further?’” Edelman said.

Traveling, gardening and “organiz[ing] my photo files” are in Edelman’s future as a retiree, though she also looks forward to becoming a more civically engaged citizen now that she’ll have more personal time to devote to it. Knowing Garfunkel will be at the helm of communications for The Community Foundation is making her departure from the organization “easier,” she said.

“…It’s really exciting for me to know that she’s got so many wonderful things and qualities that she’s bringing to this job and it’s making my exit — which will be difficult personally, I have so much of my heart in The Community Foundation — it’s making that exit much more – it’ll be easier,” she said. “It won’t be easy, but it’ll be easier knowing it’s in such good hands.”

By Michele Leivas
Resident Community News

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