KENDALL CLAWSON: Working Across Difference, Finding Common Threads

It’s Kendall’s first week as the incoming Executive Director here at GRANTMAKERS, so we asked her a few questions about what brought her here, what she does in her free time, and her plans for the future.

What brought you to Oregon?

I moved to Oregon from Massachusetts with my spouse almost 11 years ago after having one of those moments when a decision comes to light. It was an unusually snowy winter and I found myself outside in the middle of the night, staring at our snow covered driveway as inches had become feet. You know, there is a whole theory in the east about snow: you have to stay on top of it…which means shoveling every hour, or else you would wake up in the morning rested and bright eyed…and trapped in your house. It was that night that we put the shovels away and made the decision that we wanted to live in a place that didn’t turn into an icy tundra every year. As we weighed our options, one thought was to move back to the Bay Area where we had friends and family. But Oregon kept coming back into the conversation. We had vacationed in Oregon several times and every time we returned, we were reminded of what makes Oregon so great…friendly people, beautiful surroundings, great restaurants, theater, music and most importantly, very little snow! So without really knowing anyone here, we took a chance and moved to Oregon in the spring of 2007. Even with its adorable little bouts of snow (comparatively!), we love it here and Oregon has become home.

What about the GOSW job intrigued you?

The majority of my career has been in non-profit management with a foray into state government when I served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor John Kitzhaber for 4 years. I have primarily focused on organizational and community development and I was really fortunate to continue working in that arena while in the Governor’s Office. As the person who was responsible for working with the Governor to make Executive Appointments to 312 statewide Boards and Commissions, I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of Oregonians who worked collaboratively to make some of the most important decisions that affected the entire state. Then, while I was with the Governor’s Office, I participated in the American Leadership Forum of Oregon’s Fellows Program. ALF taught me a lot about our region…what people valued, how they lived their lives and the depth of their community bonds. Possibilities were everywhere and I quickly learned that by cultivating relationships across difference, common threads can be found. Honestly, that is what is so appealing to me about joining the team at GOSW. I love the idea of continuing to build on the great foundation of partnership that exists at GOSW, and I am ready to dig into how we can support the great work that our partners are engaged in.

If I were to identify where I think there are tremendous untapped opportunities, it would be deepening our relationships and understanding of life in rural communities. I recently designed and launched a new initiative at ALF that explores the issue of the urban rural divide, with a purposeful intent to identify the ways in which urban and rural communities maintain common values and shared concerns. Too often, people stop listening to one another and focus only on what divides us. I believe that with meaningful dialogue, we can find ways to better understand one another and to collectively seek solutions to challenges. It takes a concerted effort to leave the comforts of one’s own experience, and I am committed to building GOSW’s brand to be inclusive of the lives and the storylines of rural Oregon and SW Washington.

With that in mind, I especially look forward to connecting with the needs and interests of philanthropists in SW Washington. While I am certain that Washington and Oregon have commonalities, I think that it is important to recognize and understand the specific issues that are important to all of the communities in our network. SW Washington communities bring a richness to our network that is critical to our continued growth, so I will prioritize making those important connections. There is a lot on the horizon for us as a collaborative, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this community.

What do you see as the role of philanthropy given the climate today?

At a time when we are experiencing high levels of tension and division politically and socially, I believe that philanthropy has the potential to be the center of the universe for possibility, growth and change. Philanthropy can navigate systems and seek solutions to challenges because of their interest in and connection to real life issues and they have the ability to reach out through broad networks of influencers that may be out of reach to the general public. Philanthropists can be uniquely fluid and flexible in a way that many other leaders cannot–especially in times of discord. This flexibility is critical to breaking down barriers and reducing or eliminating the paralysis that occurs when we are not fully aligned as a country. I also think that the use of strong and clean data is one of the most invaluable tools that philanthropy has at its disposal. We all benefit from important and galvanizing ideas, but supporting those ideas with solid data takes away that sense of doubt as to whether or not the investments we are making in communities and in systems can take hold. Data-driven philanthropic efforts can help move an innovative project along that on its own could be difficult to quantify or worst yet, impossible to complete. Ultimately, I believe that the collective thinking and resources of philanthropy, paired with data-driven projects, has the potential to deeply affect change.

What do you do in your time outside of work?

I love to travel and see parts of the world that are really different from where I live. I have recently visited the Azores, New Zealand, Portugal and Curacao—all of which had beautiful coastlines and beaches. Because I grew up in Guantanamo Bay Cuba and Puerto Rico before moving to California, I always appreciate any chance I can get to take my shoes and socks off and feel the sand between my toes. My most recent trip was to Ghana, which was glorious and prolific for me personally. So many African American people never have the chance to go to Africa and finding our roots can often lead to dead ends when documentation of our slave ancestors runs cold. But I recently learned that my people are from Ghana, so it was pretty powerful to experience this beautiful place where my lineage began. It was something that I will never forget. Other than traveling, I do a lot of volunteer work because I am a big believer in being in service to others, I enjoy movies (especially documentaries), and I love to spend time exploring the NW with my spouse of 26 years and our dog Blazer.

Any final thoughts?

I’m really excited to be a partner in the GOSW collaborative. I can’t wait to see what we’ll cook up — and how together, we can move from hope to action. I intend to meet with as many people as possible in my first 100 days because it is really important that I understand where our members think we are and what they hope for GOSW as we move forward. I can’t wait to get started and I can’t wait to meet you!


Kendall can be reached at