Building a Strong Community
January 17, 2012
Working for the common good has always been part of Fraser Nelson’s philosophy. From working on political campaigns after college to serving as the executive director for the Community Foundation of Utah, Nelson has championed the cause of social justice in one form or another throughout her career. “I have always been passionate about social justice,” she says.
Nelson’s altruistic attitude permeates her entire life. What makes Nelson’s philosophy unique is how she views the business world: “I made a very early decision to work for the common good rather than [for] profit,” Nelson says. “[I] assume that most people, no matter their role in our capitalist society, see their work [as for the common good] as well.”
Nelson’s first experience with community service came from her father, who always served the community in addition to working in the corporate world. Nelson talks about the influence her father’s example had on her: “I saw how much satisfaction he got from the results of his efforts and what a difference he was able to make [in the community].” She also attributes her devotion to building communities to spending part of her childhood in Europe, where she gained a broader worldview. “As a result [I am] a deeply patriotic and loving critic of systems that perpetuate social injustices,” she says.
Nelson was a Social Innovation Fellow at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and received degrees from Duke University and St. Mary’s University. She has worked for various social causes and has been active in politics since she was a child. Nelson moved to Utah in 1997 when she became executive director of the Disability Law Center. Of course, moving where there was great skiing was an added bonus.
After researching philanthropy models influenced by venture capital-type investment strategies, she met Greg Warnock, a founding partner of vSpring Capital, who had a similar vision for a community foundation. In 2008, the Community Foundation of Utah was created with Nelson in the role of executive director and Warnock serving as chairman of the board. The organization seeks to bring together business, government and community leaders to find innovative solutions for the complex problems facing Utah.
Nelson acknowledges that working for the community has benefits and challenges. “Starting a community foundation at the start of the Great Recession might be seen as a challenge,” she says. An eternal optimist, Nelson instead sees this as a great opportunity, particularly because Utah is filled with innovative entrepreneurs who are increasingly focusing their entrepreneurial skills on social problems.
Though funding for charities and community groups often wanes in times of economic hardship, community problems don’t fade. The foundation seeks to provide the state with a “community endowment—a rainy-day fund—for the charitable organizations and cultural institutions” of Utah.
Overall, Nelson attributes her success to concentrating on something she loves: helping the community. “I am grateful for all those who share the work of healing the world, no matter how they do it,” she says, particularly acknowledging her many mentors, as well as her supportive husband and wonderful 13-year-old daughter.