Who's That Gal: VALERIE PONTIFF of The JUNIOR LEAGUE of BOSTON
Occupation: Managing Partner, Mohr Partners Global Corporate Real Estate Advisors
Hometown: Greeley, Colorado
Current ‘Hood: Newton, Massachusetts (since 2002)
The Junior League is one of the most well-known philanthropic organizations. How did you first get involved with their work?
After nearly 15 wonderful years in Seattle where I attended the University of Washington for both undergraduate and graduate school and had a thriving career in commercial real estate valuation, my husband and I relocated to Boston in 2002. I was quickly introduced to JL Boston through a friend and knew right away that the leadership training would be second to none. JL Boston is almost entirely run by our members, who oversee our endowment, our historic facility, our 19 signature community service programs and our customized training curriculum. The organization has delivered time again on its mission of developing some of the region’s most impactful leaders in the not for profit space.
How did your role with the organization evolve since joining?
Serving as the President requires at least one prior term on the Board of Directors and substantial involvement in the organization over time. I was fortunate to serve as the Treasurer several years prior and also to serve on the Headquarters Renovation Committee that oversaw the $2 million upgrade to our historic building on Newbury Street as we prepared to serve the community for our second hundred years.
How do you balance work, family, friends, and all of your volunteer work? What are some strategies for finding time in your schedule for philanthropy?
It is a myth that we can have it all at the same time. A substantial volunteer role like being the President of the Junior League is a heavy time commitment, similar to a full time job when daytime and evening obligations are combined. For this 12 month period, I have relied heavily upon my immediate and extended family to help support childcare obligations, and on my business partners for workplace support. Most volunteer obligations are less intense, and part of a normal upper level professional career. In a typical year, I’ll allocate about half a business day to professional or community service and believe that is customary for those in senior professional roles.
People have a lot of stereotypes of the Junior League. Give us the real deal - what are the women like?
Those stereotypes are changing quickly. Of our Active membership (those with eight or fewer years of service) nearly 100 percent work full time, most in fairly senior corporate roles. Of our Sustaining Membership (9 and more years of service), there are few members who are not heavily involved in not for profit and for-profit leadership around the city. The Junior League truly provides one of the very best platforms for meeting those people who will make and are making the biggest impact in the Boston landscape of community service by exceptionally trained leaders.
The Junior League is a female-only organization. Why is that and what makes women unique when it comes to philanthropy?
We are lucky to be able to provide leadership development in a women-only space. Our fund development teams run major, major projects, such as our Decorator’s Show House 2016 in May at the Nathaniel Allen House in West Newton. This particular fundraiser required extensive legal work, special permits from the City of Newton, engagement with another not for profit that owned the facility, work with the Historical Commission, engagement of outside public relations support, work with designers around the region and so much more. The project is truly big, big business in the not for profit world. Our chairs and their team get have total strategic vision and control and through that experience become exceptionally effective leaders in the community. There is no substitute for being at the top. Our Show House chairs benefit from the truly top level experiences that JL Boston uniquely provides.
How is the Junior League different now than it was when it was founded 110 years ago?
Our not-for profit business has evolved to fit the needs of our working members. Our meetings are in the evening and our Community Service programs are performed in the evenings and on weekends. But our overall platform of service and leadership training is unchanged. Our members of the past went forth into the community and both caused and inspired improvements in greater Boston. That remains true today.
Where will the organization be 20+ years from now?
Our Community Service impact is rapidly expanding and the fruits of that will be well seen in 20 years.
How can a young woman who is still trying to establish her financial grounding, but wants to become a more charitable person, get involved in The Junior League?
The minimum financial obligation for a year of Junior League membership is just under $300. This is a small investment in personal development that yields incredible dividends personally and professionally.
Favorite Junior League event ever: Decorator’s Show House
Best thing about spring in Boston: Magnolias blooming in Back Bay
My spirit animal: Blue Heron
3 words that describe my style: crisp, intense, fun