Cathy Bonner made history this past weekend, becoming the first female chair of the Board of Directors of the Chautauqua Foundation.
The Texan assumed leadership at the Foundation’s Saturday board meeting. As a business entrepreneur with more than 35 years of experience in leading a variety of multi-million dollar organizations in the public and private sectors — and a fundraiser for other nonprofit organizations — she feels her background will prove a valuable asset to the Foundation.
Bonner began her career after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, taking notable positions in local businesses and organizations in marketing and public relations. Creating the advertising firm Bonner Inc. and serving as the director of the Texas Department of Commerce have been a couple of her proudest accomplishments.
Most recently, Bonner served as the president, then chairman, of Service King Collision Repair. Forbes Magazine named Bonner one of the 25 most influential women entrepreneurs in 2001.
Bonner has invested her time and talent in Chautauqua Institution over the 20 years since she first visited, having been involved with the Chautauqua Women’s Club, Friends of Chautauqua Theater and the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends.
The Foundation has tried to adhere to three pillars that would keep the Institution financially stable, Bonner said. The first, to act as good stewards of gifts made to Chautauqua; the second, to raise the annual Chautauqua Fund and its ability to subsidize annual operating expenses; and the third, to help to grow resources through prudent investment.
Having joined the board as a director in 2013, Bonner was elected by the Foundation board as the new chair, succeeding Steve Percy, who has led for the past seven years.
Bonner plans on leading the organization to maintain the three pillars set for the Foundation. She also said she wants to highlight the various ways Chautauquans can support the Institution.
“I think it’s important for people to realize there are so many ways to contribute to the life and the growth of Chautauqua Institution,” she said.
It’s not just bricks and mortar that need funding, it’s also the enriching programming that people can help support, Bonner said. There are many different ways to give to the endowment and support in perpetuity programs within the areas of the arts, religion, education and youth.
Reflecting on the Promise of Chautauqua, Bonner said there are a myriad of opportunities to participate philanthropically across a full range of programs and initiatives that constitute the campaign’s diverse objectives. The overall goal and progress to date toward achieving the Promise, Bonner said, has been greater than any prior campaign in Chautauqua’s history.
“The current chair and the development staff have placed this Foundation in such good economic conditions that I don’t really have any problems or challenges going into this, which is a wonderful place to be,” Bonner said. “My predecessor, Steve Percy, has done a wonderful job at growing the Fund and growing the investments of the Foundation.”
Percy worked with financial advisors and the Foundation’s investment committee to build a stronger base of support for the Institution; upon her term’s conclusion, Bonner hopes to have done the same. Percy’s commitment to the Foundation leaves Bonner grateful to see that kind of growth in additional capital and investments, and she said she considers herself lucky to be assuming leadership with the Foundation positioned well for the future.
As the first woman serving as chair, Bonner said she hopes to inspire other women to become more involved.
“I’m really proud of that and hope to do a good job so that there’ll be many women coming along, so that it won’t be such a novelty,” she said.
Within her term, Bonner believes she and the Chautauqua Foundation’s leadership will successfully reach the Promise Campaign’s goal. She also plans to grow the Chautauqua Fund and endowment as integral contributors to the Institution’s financial sustainability. Not worried about having recently retired from her professional career, Bonner said the work she’ll be doing for Chautauqua will be plenty to keep her busy.