Donor Profile: Vanessa Keitges, CEO of Columbia Green
A nonprofit with business smarts
Ten years ago, Vanessa Keitges moved to Portland, Oregon and embarked on a search for nonprofits with missions she could get behind.
She found plenty. The Rose City has never had a dearth of mission-driven organizations. Yet to Keitges, one stood out.
“Passion. Enthusiasm. Business smarts,” said Keitges. “That’s what The Freshwater Trust has always had, and it continues to set them apart.”
Being a CEO and entrepreneur herself, she said she immediately noticed that the very same business principles that have made her successful were being employed at the nonprofit level.
“There are so many organizations and nonprofits that do great things,” she said. “Very few innovate, use technology, and track their growth and progress toward goals like The Freshwater Trust. They care about doing something revolutionary for the world of water. But they don’t forget about the economics of the issue or their organization. That’s completely unique.”
A Portland Business Journal “40 under 40” nominee, Keitges bought green roof manufacturer Columbia Green Technologies in 2009 and has realized a 400 percent increase in sales growth during her tenure as CEO . Green roofs are natural solutions that help manage the quality and quantity of storm water, energy use and air and water pollution.
“There’s nothing more important than water,” said Keitges. “Water has become more and more our most valuable resource, and it’s incredibly critical we learn how to keep it clean and manage it better in this country.”
Keitges has traveled to Africa five times. She’s watched women travel for miles carrying buckets of water for cooking. She’s seen the vast majority of rivers visibly polluted.
“The message of protecting our water and our rivers clearly needs to be shared with the world,” she said.
When asked about the future of The Freshwater Trust, Keitges says she thinks the organization has the ability to take solutions to the national and potentially even global level.
“Water is clearly a massive issue right now, and the time is right for big, new solutions,” she said. “The Freshwater Trust has them.”
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