News Article

Elisa de la Vara Promoted to Chief Community Officer


Longtime community leader Elisa de la Vara has been promoted to the newly created executive-level position of Chief Community Officer with the Arizona Community Foundation, which is among Arizona’s and the nation’s largest charitable foundations. She joined the Foundation’s staff as Senior Director of Community Initiatives in early 2015 and will assume additional organizational and statewide executive leadership responsibilities in this new role.

As a member of the executive management team, de la Vara will oversee the Foundation’s engagements and relationships with the diverse cities and communities of Arizona. Her leadership and oversight responsibilities include the grants management division, all major community initiatives including the Community Impact Loan Fund (impact investing), affordable housing fund, immigration and border philanthropy, the Black Philanthropy Initiative, Latinos Unidos initiative, and the Asian Pacific American Women’s Giving Circle. She will also build the strategy and implement ACF’s new Native American Philanthropy Initiative.

Over the course of this year, de la Vara will assume management responsibility for the Foundation’s statewide Affiliate system, including nine professional staff members who live and work in ACF’s offices in Cochise, Flagstaff, Sedona, Yavapai County and Yuma. Through its statewide Affiliate network, ACF serves donors and professional advisors in nearly every part of the state and awards grants and scholarships in all 15 Arizona counties. Collectively, the Affiliate system holds some $94 million of the Foundation’s total assets and awards more than $5 million in grants and scholarships annually.

“We are thrilled to recognize Elisa’s leadership, expertise and dedication by elevating her to this important new role within the Foundation,” said Steve Seleznow, president and CEO. “She has a distinguished background in community development and decades of experience in the nonprofit, government and commercial sectors. She is a native Arizonan with deep roots and a long history of successful leadership experiences. And, she understands the unique needs and opportunities in both the rural and metropolitan areas of Arizona. She is extraordinary in every respect.

Prior to joining the Foundation’s staff, de la Vara served as District Director managing the daily operations of Congressman Pastor’s District 7 Office for seven years until the Congressman’s retirement. She also served as State Director for the Fannie Mae Arizona Business Center, where she created and developed the business/work plan to grow the organization’s resources, tools and products across the state.

Her experience in the private sector includes serving as Principal for Enterprise 2000, Inc., and as Executive Vice President for Espinoza Development Corporation, both real estate and property development companies. As part of her role with Enterprise, from 1994 to 1996, she hosted a weekly Spanish-language television program on Univision entitled Bienvenido a Mi Casa, devoted to informing and educating viewers on the rights and responsibilities of home ownership, including the mortgage process.

In addition, de la Vara has held significant civic leadership roles throughout Arizona, including serving as Special Assistant to Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt from 1983 to 1986 and later, as Comptroller for Gov. Babbitt’s 1988 national presidential campaign. She rose through the ranks at the nonprofit Chicanos Por La Causa from 1975 to 1983, ultimately serving as Executive Vice President, the most senior position ever held by a woman in that organization at the time. She also served as Assistant to the President of the L.U.L.A.C. (League of United Latin American Citizens) National office in 1972 and 1973.

She has served on many local and national boards and commissions and has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Distinguished Leadership Award, the Arizona Governor’s Citation for Outstanding Service to the State of Arizona, the CPLC Leadership Award, and the ASU Hispanic Business Students Association Exemplary Leadership Award. In 2007, she was inducted into Valle de Sol’s Profiles of Success Hall of Fame.

She served as president of the Hispanic Association of Real Estate Professionals from 1994 to 1996 and as Chair of the City of Phoenix Housing Commission from 1995 to 1996. She served on the City of Phoenix’s Civil Service Board for five years, including one year as Chair, and on the Phoenix Industrial Development Authority.

In her hometown of Somerton, Ariz., The Migrant Seasonal HeadStart program bears her name.

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