A 2nd Act: Home (State) Improvement

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Posted By on October 29, 2020
Tammy McLeod, president of Flinn Foundation

Flinn Foundation advances Arizona, and never forgets the fun

“What comes next?” Tammy McLeod pondered this question posed by a friend one day at lunch. She had enjoyed her work as an executive with Arizona Public Service but felt in her heart that there would be one more career move in her future. “I have an idea for you,” the friend said and told McLeod about the Flinn Foundation.

The foundation was established in 1965 as a privately endowed grantmaking organization to improve the quality of life in Arizona to benefit future generations. McLeod became its president and CEO in 2017.

The Flinn Foundation’s work includes five pillars:

1. Bioscience, building Arizona as a global center for research and commercialization in the biosciences, and a leader in areas like precision medicine

2. Flinn Scholars, providing world-class undergraduate education in partnership with Arizona’s public universities

3. Arts and Culture, improving the financial and creative health of the state’s arts and culture organizations

4. The Arizona Center for Civic Leadership, strengthening leadership statewide

5. The Flinn Educational Conference Center, which is available at no charge to qualified nonprofits whose work is within one of the foundation’s specific areas of interests listed above. (The Conference Center is currently closed due to COVID.)

“Dr. Robert Flinn was very innovative. And Irene Flinn was a lover of the arts,” McLeod said. “Everything we do is clearly directed toward our mission. Across all of our programs, we focus on creating leadership and convening conversations in order to cause something to happen that otherwise might not have.”

Flinn Foundation serves the entire state. “Currently,” McLeod said, “a Flinn grant is assisting ASU’s Luminosity Lab to find novel ways to sanitize personal protective equipment. F.A.B.R.I.C. (the Fashion and Business Resource Innovation Center) in Tempe received another grant to make specialized hospital gowns. We also funded much of the testing currently being done for COVID, particularly in Native populations.”

Their scholarship program was set up so that Arizona would retain the best and brightest students at its state universities. Because of its success, some of those students have gone on to be Rhodes and Fulbright scholars. And the Arizona Board of Regents counts two Flinn Scholars among its members. Likewise, their Center for Civic Leadership has produced many of the candidates running for public office this year.

McLeod’s next project is focused on improving the continuity between their programs. “Why couldn’t Flinn scholars also become civic leaders?” she asks. “Why couldn’t civic leaders participate in a program with bioscience? I think moving horizontally between our programs has lots of exciting opportunities.”

There are several reasons why the Flinn Foundation is unique among Arizona’s many esteemed foundations. Some of the most noticeable are found in its list of core values: candor, trust, innovation, empathy and fun. Trust and innovation are common values, but the other three stand out and beg the question, why?

“Candor because it’s important to get to the point, whether that’s making a statement or pursuing a goal,” McLeod said. “Empathy because giving grants is one thing, but we don’t just want to pass out money. We want to work with grantees to understand them and fill a need that will really help advance something, striving to do it through a lens of equity. And fun? Who doesn’t want to have fun!”

Their COVID Zoom staff meetings have featured themes that put fun in the spotlight. Bringing a picture of their pet (or putting that pet on camera), wearing a funny hat, sharing a much-loved artifact in their home, or showing pictures from summer vacations — each of these has been a great way to de-stress and remember the importance of laughter.

Fun seems to be a recurring theme for McLeod, not just during challenging times, but any time. Going back to that lunch with her friend, now nearly five years ago, she recalled the ingredients for whatever her next step might be. She didn’t want to leave APS just for the sake of leaving; she loved her job.

“I wanted something on my horizon that would meet my needs and objectives,” she said. “And be a lot of fun!”

It appears that mission has been accomplished.

To learn more about the Flinn Foundation, go to flinn.org.

Judy Pearson

About Judy Pearson

Judy Pearson is a journalist, published author, and the founder of A2ndAct.org. Her organization supports and celebrates women survivors of all cancers as they give back to the greater good in their 2nd Acts. Her passion is finding those who have have healed themselves by helping others.