Forward Community Investments (FCI) Executive Director Salli Martyniak will leave the organization she has led for 16 years at the end of 2019, the organization announced in an email to supporters Tuesday.
“I feel like I’ve been living 24/7 FCI for 16 years and that means sitting in front of the TV with a computer every night, answering emails and doing this and doing that,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I’m ready to just sort of set my own terms a little bit now.”
Martyniak took the helm at what was then called The Dane Fund in 2003 and led the organization through a merger with The Wisconsin Community Fund and a substantial transformation into FCI in 2013 and 2014, when the new organization met with stakeholders from around the state and crafted a new mission.
That transformation is one of Martyniak’s proudest accomplishments, she said.
“It wasn’t only changing (the mission), but it was how we changed it. Really watching and listening to the community. And when I say the community, I mean across Wisconsin,” she said. “We went out into 12 communities across Wisconsin and held listening sessions, and just wanted to hear people, what was on their minds. And we invited anyone who wanted to come, so it was residents, government, people, nonprofits, whoever.”
She said two themes kept coming up: racial equity and “haves and have nots.”
“That was when we changed our mission to be more intentionally focused on issues of racial inequities and socioeconomic disparities,” she said.
FCI now makes loans for community development building projects and emerging developers, helps developers with new market tax credits, gives small grants to community nonprofits, among other programs.
“We’re just involved for a moment of time,” Martyniak said. “You know, we can make a loan and so forth. And then it’s the people who get to do the heavy lifting. And so watching the people do all of the heavy lifting is really, is very inspirational. Those people work hard every day and it’s a privilege to be part of their world.”
Martyniak said her next chapter is not yet clear.
“Retirement is not the right word,” she said, choosing instead to say she is “finding the next chapter of my life.”
Martyniak said the next executive director needs to be “someone who really understands housing and what that means. And it’s not necessarily for them to be developing housing, but how to support the housing that’s needed in the state. And also really looking at how to build wealth in communities of color. What does that really mean? We make loans to organizations, but there needs to be something beyond that.”
The email to supporters said the board of directors would conduct a national search for the next executive director.
“We would like to thank Salli for her strong leadership throughout the years and commend her courage in addressing issues of race in Wisconsin head-on. We wish her luck in her future endeavors,” Board Chair Ananda Mirilli said in the email.