When Elizabeth “BJ” Summers began her career with the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore (CFES) in 1997, she could not have foreseen the journey that the next 24 years would bring. Established in 1984, CFES was finding its stride as a leader in community philanthropy for individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. Like so many others, BJ saw the Foundation’s potential to address immediate community needs and build resources for the future; but little did she know how her own future would be affected.
In July 2001, BJ was promoted to become the Foundation’s first Donor Relations Officer. At that time, the Foundation had given $13.2 million in grants to local organizations. In 2016 BJ was again promoted, this time to Director of Development and Donor Relations. As BJ enters retirement this year, she can proudly look back on her leadership of the Development and Donor Relations Department. CFES has grown almost tenfold since then and has granted a cumulative $94 million to area nonprofits – a feat that would not be possible without the growth of assets, relationship building, and connections lead by BJ and her team.
BJ has created a lasting impact in the community, helping thousands to achieve their philanthropic goals through CFES. Her compassion, personal touch, and warm spirit helped her excel at matching donors to charitable needs aligned with their individual passions.
“I often say that I have the best job at the Foundation. Every person who comes to see me wants to do something good. It has been a privilege to guide others in fulfilling their charitable dreams. Whether to support human services, the arts, animal welfare, education, the environment, health, and the list goes on,” Summers says. “The people are what make the Community Foundation what it is. That is what has meant the most to me and what I will miss the most.”
Her enormous impact has touched every department within the Foundation. As CFES grew, BJ (and often her family) attended nearly every event to network, support the organization, and help people come together. Meanwhile, the continued growth of Foundation assets allowed CFES to expand, building a full suite of programs that help meet community needs, provide resources for local nonprofits, and turn donors’ dreams into reality.
“One of the greatest joys of my work over these years has been playing a role in both the tremendous growth of the Foundation and its positive influence on Communities we serve,” says Summers. “Together, we can enhance the lives of our neighbors in need and change our communities for the better, all through the generosity of those who partner with us to make a difference.”
For more than two decades, she’s served as a vital mentor to staff and board members, passing on institutional knowledge that ensures the Foundation and the community benefit from continuity. BJ has also supported many educational and networking programs for professional advisors, which raised local awareness of the potential for planned giving.
BJ’s retirement will allow her to spend more time with her children and grandchildren and to enjoy her love of traveling. While she will be around the Foundation less often, she plans to remain engaged with CFES as a consultant. CFES is simply a part of her now, just as much as she has been a part of it. Her commitment to philanthropy and the Foundation will be forever appreciated and will leave an immeasurable impact on our community. It is certainly a career that has left a legacy.