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Kush Appointed to Games, Parks Commission

Donna Kush will join the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to represent Douglas County. Gov. Pete Ricketts announced the appointment to District 2 last Thursday to succeed Dick Bell.

Kush is the president and CEO of the Omaha Community Foundation and currently chairs the Omaha Sports Commission and SHARE Omaha. Additionally, she also serves on the Invest Nebraska board of directors.

“Donna is a well-respected member of the community. Her experience in building successful public-private partnerships and love of the outdoors will provide great value for the Game and Parks Commission,” Ricketts said in a statement. “As the commission continues to expand its educational resources and programs for teachers, parents and families as well as broaden outreach to diverse audiences, her skills will help the commission in fulfilling this important part of its mission.”

Kush has more than 28 years of corporate experience. She is a native of Monroe and grew up with an appreciation of the outdoors through hunting, fishing and camping. She said she enjoys hiking, stand-up paddle boarding and other outdoor activities.

“It is an honor to be considered for the Game and Parks Commission, such a central part of our state’s outdoors and sports culture and future,” Kush said in a statement. “Now, more than ever, because of the pandemic, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the numerous facilities and features to an even wider audience who is looking for recreation and activities that are outdoors, safe, and close to home.”

Commission Director Jim Douglas said that Kush would bring her business acumen and communications expertise to the role.

Kush’s appointment, subject to approval by the Nebraska Legislature, runs through Jan. 15, 2024.

Kush Appointed to Games, Parks Commission Donna Kush will join the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to represent Douglas County. Gov. Pete Ricketts announced the appointment to District 2 last

DONNA KUSH: Foundation Builder

STORY by KARA SCHWEISS | photography by JIM SCHOLZ • mmagazine

” I BELIEVE THAT IF YOU HAVE A specific ROAD MAP, YOU CAN miss OPPORTUNITIES THAT COME UP ALONG THE WAY. “

DONNA KUSH PRESIDENT AND CEO OMAHA COMMUNITY FOUNDATION

DONNA KUSH was on a safari last year when she found out some interesting facts about zebras.

“the guide said zebras thrive because they act like a team, they look out for each other and warn each other when there’s danger, and they gather around their young,” she said.

it’s fitting that those particular qualities appealed to english, who serves children’s hospital & medical center as executive vice president, chief operating officer (coo) and chief nursing officer (cno). she also has a couple of pictures of zebras in her office.

“i came back to hospital and said, ‘we’re going to be zebras,” she said. “and the best part of it is that a group of zebras is called a ‘dazzle.’ isn’t that cool?”

english joined children’s in 1991 as cno, and she came to the position with significant experience in direct patient care.

“i have spent my whole career in children’s hospitals,” she said. “when i graduated from nursing school i went right to the children’s hospital in fort worth (texas) and was there for 15 years. i started as a nurse on the 11-to-7 shift on the adolescent unit, and when i left i was the assistant vice president for patient care.”

it was hard to leave the facility where she’d launched her career, english said, but after 15 years it was time to stretch her wings and experience another organization, with one

Donna Kush launched her career in the corporate sector, but stipulation: she’s it always had to be been a children’s hospital. when the one in omaha called, english hadn’t active in the community. as Omaha Community Foundation’s new interviewed president in years and and looked CeO, forward to the Kush brings both valuable professional experience and a unique experience perspective being “good to practice.” the role. she wasn’t counting on anything coming of it, but instead of merely wooing her, omaha’s children’s hospital wowed her.

WHEN donna kush began her new position as president and chief executive officer of Omaha Community Foundation (OCF) this past March, the organization’s signature annual event, Omaha Gives!, was less than two months away. A pandemic was emerging and a new response fund had been launched just 10 days earlier. Kush had to meet much of her team through videoconferencing and also had to immediately begin developing a long-term plan for continuing virtual operations and creating a safe environment for an eventual return to the office.

Nobody would say it was an easy start, but Kush is meeting the challenges and flourishing in her new role, which includes leading the strategic vision for the organization; advancing OCF’s responsibilities to match the vast needs of the community with donors and supporters; cultivating relationships and collaborations in the community; fostering diversity, equity and inclusion; and advancing OCF’s team and culture.

“What makes me a unique in this role is my corporate background; the majority of my career has been in the corporate world until my more recent consulting work in philanthropy and nonprofits. I’m bringing a blend of both to this role,” Kush said. “I think the advantage of that is that I bring a different approach and fresh view.”

Kush, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism and mass communication from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, held executive positions in marketing, communications, and public affairs and policy at Fortune 500 companies Union Pacific and TD Ameritrade. Her nonprofit and community involvement goes back years, but she is currently active on the boards of Omaha Sports Commission and Invest Nebraska, as well as SHARE Omaha, which works closely with OCF. Kush was recently appointed by Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission representing District 2. She’s the only woman in the current group of nine and only the second woman in state history to be a commissioner.

“Some people are surprised by the appointment, but they are probably not aware of my upbringing and growing up in rural Nebraska in a family of hunting and fishing,” she said, adding that she still finds opportunities to fish and hike even as a city dweller. “I have always had a great appreciation for the outdoors. Growing up, my family enjoyed the outdoor recreation and camping. My goal on the commission is to help ensure our region continues to enhance its outdoor offerings for a broader range of people to enjoy— whether it is hiking or biking trails, campsites and cabins, new venture parks, fishing, hunting, canoeing or boating. I also have a great appreciation for the science behind wildlife management and conservation in an organization like Nebraska Game and Parks.”

Kush said her early years in Monroe, a town of 300 located west of Columbus, also had some influence on her eventual choice to make a career shift to the nonprofit world.

“I grew up in rural Nebraska with a strong sense of community. You helped your neighbors out. You took pride in your small town, your small high school, and the culture that came along with that,” she explained, adding that leading a nonprofit has been a calling of sorts. “The number one reason for me is community impact. It’s the ability to make a difference in this community.”

a community that steps up

Kush praised OCF’s “extremely talented team” and the “great foundation” built under predecessor Sara Boyd, who led the organization for nearly 20 years.

“One thing I don’t think a lot of people know is that OCF is the fourteenth-largest community foundation in the nation,” she said. “A community foundation is different than most foundations; it’s a collective of donors whereas with other foundations it’s family or one person who represents the fund…our responsibility is to work with community partners to assess needs, and help our donors define their interests

and match those to the needs of the community.” Among Kush’s first tasks at OCF has been working with the team to oversee the new COVID-19 response fund.

“We have raised $1.2 million thus far and are closely evaluating the best use of those funds. We’ve had conversations with dozens of nonprofits,” she said. “We are focused on front-line, basic and urgent needs support. That means food, housing, health, mental health, emergency needs and the special needs of our senior population, too.”

Right on the heels of responding to the pandemic came Omaha Gives!, an annual 24-hour giving event that took place for the eighth time on May 20 this year.

“It was a unique Omaha Gives!. More than ever we needed support in this community for nonprofits and the mounting needs,” she said. “Omaha Gives! has always been about celebrating the nonprofits in our community and creating awareness of the services they provide. This year we have so many who are serving those who are most vulnerable and being directly impacted by the pandemic.”

Even during these stressful economic times, the community stepped up, Kush said. More than 23,000 individual donors supported 1,010 nonprofits with 65,160 donations totaling over $8.5 million, which set multiple records.

“I think the pandemic has put a spotlight on equity issues that already existed in the community, and (that) we will work with our community partners to address,” she said.

getting things done

Kush is already looking at OCF’s long-term goals, including a refreshed strategic plan that accounts for recent events from the pandemic to understanding and promoting equity.

She’s also ready to explore new partnerships in the community with donors, other nonprofits, advisors, and civic and business leaders.

“ IT’S AN exciting ROLE TO BE IN TO HELP shape THE FUTURE VISION FOR OUR COMMUNITY, MAKE CONNECTIONS AND provide SOLUTIONS. “

“From my corporate background, I have a lot of experience in public/private partnerships. I am a big supporter of collaboration and coalescing or convening resources in order to get things done…it’s looking at an issue and assessing what work is already being done, and assessing where we have gaps, and working to fill those together,” she said.

It’s all part of a bigger picture, Kush explained.

“We’re trying to identify our future vision and how we can elevate the role Omaha Community Foundation plays in lifting our community. How can our Landscape (OCF community data-driven assessment project) data be more actionable? How can we be more innovative? How can we help nonprofits be more effective with their capacity-building? How can we help play a role in equity, diversity and inclusion?” she said. “We are fortunate to have so many generous philanthropists who have made enormous transformations in our community. Our community has endless needs, though. It’s an exciting role to be in to help shape the future vision for our community, make connections and provide solutions.”

Outside of work, Kush said, spending time with family is an important priority. Kush is married to Jeff Kavich, a fourth-generation leader of Omaha mainstay All Makes, an office furniture and technology provider. Her stepdaughter Chelsea works in New York, and Ally attends the University of Nebraska Omaha. The family’s four-legged members, goldendoodles Macy and Stella, are Kush’s “running partners.”

It’s hard to find spare time, Kush said, but she’d love to learn to play the piano someday. It’s a goal people usually pursue much earlier in life, and like her recent career change, it will be challenging. But Kush has proven she’s not one to be discouraged by a couple of unexpected curves.

“I believe that if you have a specific road map, you can miss opportunities that come up along the way; you never know when or who might present you with those options,” she said. “If you allow yourself to be open and agile, there are amazing opportunities that will present themselves. Then, you will have to evaluate and decide strategically, as well as with your gut or instincts, as to whether or not it’s a fit and risk worth taking. It can trigger fear, but it’s also rewarding.”

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