Foster named CEO of GKVF

Dec 12, 2015

Original Article: Charleston Gazette-Mail

Michelle Mickle Foster never really intended to go into nonprofits.

She went to school at the City College of New York to study chemical engineering. And for years that’s what she did, working on process designs for polyethylene plants a lab at Union Carbide.

But then she found a love for volunteering. And before she knew it, she had left behind the safety glasses and rubber gloves for the Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action.

“I’m now a social engineer,” Foster said.

Her years as the social engineer running KISRA have paid off — Foster was recently named the CEO of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, a charitable foundation that serves Kanawha, Putnam, Boone, Clay, Lincoln and Fayette counties.

“We want to go to the next highest bar possible and we’re very excited,” said Charlie Loeb, a lawyer at the law firm Jackson Kelly and chairman of the search committee for the foundation. “I think we found our leader.”

The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation received 109 applications from all across the country. The search committee narrowed its search down to 12 people before selecting Foster.

Foster plans to use her unique background as an engineer to her advantage with her new position. With KISRA, that background helped her build a small organization in the basement of a church into one where she had 80 employees.

“My thinking is kind of different than a typical nonprofit leader, and I think that really helps with program design,” Foster said. “I was designing chemical plants, and so I’m designing programs. I’m designing systems to really help people and empower people.”

Foster also looks to incorporate some of the lessons she learned from working in the community. She became an expert at applying for grants to receive funds, to the point where she led grant writing training sessions with employees of the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, and hopes to use that experience to help nonprofits in the area diversify their funding sources.

This should be helpful for nonprofits as charitable donations are down 2 percent according to Philanthropy West Virginia.

Foster hopes to see more donations.

“I think showing impact and really letting prospective funders and investors know what a difference their resources can make is a part of the solution,” Foster said. “Showing them, with you investing your precious dollars, this is a change that has occurred and can occur. Helping to show them that impact will help.”

Foster has watched those changes occur herself. She particularly remembers watching Anthony Johnson, a boy who got after-school care from KISRA, grow up and give back to the community and the feeling of pride she gets knowing that he just graduated from medical school.

Foster wants to use those stories to help grow the profile of West Virginia. She thinks that if others see the positive stories of people like Johnson, then West Virginia will be able to shed its negative stereotypes.

“I wasn’t born in West Virginia,” Foster said. “But I’ve lived here for most of my life and it’s a great place to live, and I think we want the world to know that. Big picture, it’s really about showing the world the great things about West Virginia.”

Reach Daniel Desrochers at, 304-348-4886 or follow @drdesrochers on Twitter.

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