Chautauqua Fund Kick-off Celebration Discusses New Goals for Annual Fund

  • Susan McKee, center left, listens as Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill discusses 150 Forward, the newly unveiled strategic plan, during the Chautauqua Fund kickoff breakfast at the Athenaeum Hotel June 22. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

Every year, gifts to the Chautauqua Fund have an immediate impact on the innovations to the full range of programs discovered at Chautauqua Institution. The community’s active participation and investment makes the Chautauqua experience possible, from the lectures and worship, to artistic programming, scholarships for students of the Schools of Performing and Visual Arts and much more.

Last year, over $4.9 million was raised from nearly 3,500 individuals, families and organizations who  gave to the Chautauqua Fund. Chautauqua Fund volunteers play an essential role serving as supporters for the Institution, helping to raise critical funds.

Volunteers on the 2019 Chautauqua Fund team gathered with the Institution and Foundation leadership on Saturday, June 22, to learn more about important initiatives and projects that have been impacted by the work they are doing for Chautauquans.

The kick-off began with a welcome and opening remarks from Tim Renjilian, co-chair of the 2019 Chautauqua Fund, along with his wife, Leslie. Renjilian said he was eager to start the season and was anticipating multiple events that volunteers would enjoy as they engage with members of the community and encourage philanthropic support that makes Chautauqua’s programs possible.

I’m actually really excited about the new strategic plan and the excitement that it’s creating for people,” Renjilian said, reflecting on the kick-off. “I think in terms of the program, there are all sorts of great events across all of our different disciplines. (In) the arts, I am specifically excited about the theater program this year.

Renjilian said the kick-off is a great way to start the season, bringing together the dedicated volunteers who will be advocating on behalf of the Chautauqua Fund.

“My favorite part is just having everybody together,” he said. “That, for me, is kind of the official beginning of the season. It’s the first time when we have all of the familiar faces and old friends just in one place. Seeing all of the people and just feeling the excitement about the new season as everybody comes together and start to actually become part of the season plans, I think that’s the most exciting thing.”

Staff introductions and Foundation updates were presented by Geof Follansbee, CEO and vice president of development. The Foundation has welcomed many new faces to the development office this season — new staff members who were introduced included Amy Gardner, associate vice president for major and planned gifts; Debbie Meyers, assistant vice president for advancement operations; Jennifer Stitely, director of gift planning; and Jared Magoon, assistant director of the Chautauqua Fund.

After introductions, Institution President Michael E. Hill discussed with volunteers the new strategic plan that Chautauqua Institution wadopted this year, 150 Forward. Reflecting on the breakfast a few days later, he said the kick-off provided an opportunity to discuss the plan with fellow Chautauquans in detail and hear valuable feedback.

“It’s just an opportunity to sit down with key ambassadors and Chautauqua Fund volunteers to talk to them at a high level about the process that led to that plan, and what makes it similar or different from what Chautauquans might be used to, and how they might think about it and hopefully be in support of it,” Hill said.

Hill noted that the kick-off is “one of the first moments where we see Chautauquans in the season, so for me it always feels like a family reunion.”

I enjoyed reconnecting with people, I enjoyed hearing their questions and seeing their enthusiasm, and it’s just a moment to express gratitude for everything these folks do for us year round,” Hill said.

After Hill’s speech, Emily Morris, vice president of marketing and communications and chief brand officer, discussed marketing initiatives for the Institution. John Shedd, vice president of campus planning and operations, provided community notes and updates on projects taking place across the grounds leading up to the summer and beyond.

Renjilian returned to the stage to reiterate his gratitude to the volunteers for their service and generosity to Chautauqua, and to encourage them as they work toward this year’s objectives.

The most straightforward goal is to hit our target of $5 million to be raised for the 2019 Chautauqua Fund,” Renjilian said. “I think more importantly than that, we see this whole Chautauqua program and the group of volunteers that we have as a way of really strengthening the community.”

Anyone interested in serving as a volunteer for the Chautauqua Fund is invited to contact Christine Doolittle, administrative project manager, at or 716-357-6465. For more information or to make a gift, visit

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The author Marianna Moore

Marianna Moore is a rising senior at the University of Missouri. She is studying journalism with a concentration in strategic communication. She interns as a writer for the university’s Office of Student Affairs and previously interned as a social media manager with Mizzou International Experience. In her free time, Marianna likes to volunteer at the Central Missouri Humane Society and enjoys writing poetry.