Jennifer Hunter is Senior Vice President Corporate Citizenship and Chief Sustainability Officer for Altria Client Services. She also holds several leadership positions in the community, including her service on the boards of University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development, the Virginia Business Higher Education Council, and chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee for ChamberRVA.
As she begins her two-year term as board chair of the Community Foundation, Jennifer is undeniably excited for what lies ahead. We recently asked her how consumer behavior, persistent opportunity gaps, and a call for regional collaboration are shaping the way philanthropy, and particularly the Foundation, can play a key role in encouraging community conversation and collective action. We hope you enjoy Jennifer’s insights into how we can “meet the moment we’re in” while also laying the groundwork for long-term strategies that can advance prosperity for everyone in our region.
What are you excited about as you begin your term as board chair?
I think everyone has been changed by the pandemic and the racial unrest, which we all felt so acutely in 2020, and which still impacts many people today. We can’t let that be a fleeting moment. We’ve now taken time to reflect on what we experienced, what we learned, how we can do things differently, and what role the Community Foundation needs to play in this broader ecosystem.
What excites me most is that our community came together and has committed to having different conversations. The Community Foundation is well-positioned to meet the moment we’re in – as a leader, listener, collaborator, investor, and supporter. We truly want to do more good with the resources we have available. And one of the most important things we can do is invite people to a bigger table.
We want people sitting around the table who haven’t been asked before and whose voices have not been heard. Their solutions have been missing and we are saying, “we need you in the conversation.” This is how we create sustainable change – and a vibrant region.
And this is such a tremendous opportunity. We believe in a shared future for our region where rising tides lift all boats. The best way to get there is to work collectively with others to create access and opportunity in a very inclusive way that results in a thriving community, both socially and economically.
A great example of working collectively is how we are engaging differently and more deeply with our donors, honoring what matters to them, and sharing how they can be part of bigger and bolder solutions.
We are coming together to help create a region that is thriving and more dynamic for everyone. Who doesn't want to be part of that? The Community Foundation offers a number of ways to contribute. Whether through a donor-advised fund for individual or corporate giving, or through giving circles and volunteering – there are so many ways to join with us to do more good, together.
How is philanthropy evolving and how does that impact the way we approach our work?
I'm a huge fan of the Edelman Trust Barometer Survey. Their research studies which institutions are most trusted or distrusted, and why, and what opportunity that creates. I use this survey to understand expectations and inform how we solve issues for our business, our employees, and the community and how the approach you take should align with what your stakeholders expect of you.
For example, a business that has a clear focus and commitment to philanthropy can become a talent magnet for an increasing number of individuals who want to connect their personal purpose to their jobs. They want to work for a company that does good. And consumers want to buy products from responsible companies that have sustainable brands and are doing the right thing. Employees and consumers are bringing forward a set of concerns that address the significant issues of our time – like education, housing, workforce, the environment and others. More than an increase in activity or dollars, they expect to see the impact of the investments you make. This is true for any philanthropic institution.
Another shift I see is the expectation that philanthropy addresses social, racial and economic inequities in our communities. We must approach this expectation with humility. Which means recognizing traditional institutions might lack credibility or may not always be the trusted voice. But this also creates opportunities. Like learning from other community leaders – from a broader diversity of backgrounds – who have been doing great work for years and gone unseen.
Understanding external trends and what’s expected of the Community Foundation will help inform how we positively contribute to our community.
What do you think people should know about the Community Foundation?
I have tremendous appreciation for the Community Foundation. They are thought leaders and quite skilled at bringing people together to tackle important issues – like housing and education. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years, which has contributed to how Altria measures the impact of our community investments. I refer to them as the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”
People should know that the Community Foundation is made up of amazing people doing hard work that's rewarding and that matters to our community. We are strongly committed to being a learning organization and we are eager to share our experiences with others as they make their own informed decisions about how they want to impact their community.
The Community Foundation is more than just a place to create a donor-advised fund. The true value is embedded in the knowledge and relationships we share by doing good work together. Individuals and families can be curious with us.
How can we show up differently as leaders in cultivating long-term change?
Collaboration should be the word of the future. We need to focus on what we can do together for collective impact. Our desire to build a stronger, more connected region is not a zero-sum game. We can do this work with a bias towards “yes,” and a bias toward the idea that together, we can do more. Our leaders and institutions have to model that kind of behavior.
I believe the Community Foundation has the willingness, the curiosity, and the courage to show up in a different way. If we are working on behalf of the collective good, that means asking what we can do – each of us – so that our community is truly a community of opportunity. We are putting the community at the center of our work and we are bringing people along to show what's possible together.
What issues do you feel are a priority for our region right now?
Housing has really risen to the top of my list. It's interesting because I used to think that education provided the greatest opportunity to affect the trajectory of a young person. This is very true, however, where you go to school – and how you’re able to show up and experience that education – is based largely on where you live.
How do we start having different conversations? Housing is a big system, as is education and workforce preparation. You start to realize the interconnectedness of the issues, and it's not about choosing one or the other, but what do you tackle first? You start to realize the power of housing when you go back to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. You start to understand the power of getting housing right.
How are you engaging your children in philanthropy?
My older son, Matthew, is in his second year at UVA. He’s been talking about mental health and well-being, especially since the shooting at UVA. He also sees the impact of COVID on young people – from learning loss to an array of mental health issues. Because of his interest in youth well-being, we recently supported ChildSavers in his name. This was an opportunity to invest in a cause he cares about, while also supporting a Black-led organization.
It was nice to have this conversation with both of my boys. I loved learning about the issues that matter most to them. Having a donor-advised fund allows our family to make a sustained difference in our community. Now, our philanthropy reflects the interests and passions of our entire family.
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