From law to yoga, new Dodge CEO brings many tools to tough challenge

Tanuja Dehne. Photo courtesy of Young Audiences Arts for Learning.
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Colleagues describe her as a hard-charging motivator and a strategic thinker, a leader who is both fair and unflappable.

Tanuja Dehne, the new president and CEO of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, said Wednesday she aims to bring skills honed in the nonprofit and corporate worlds to help Dodge advocate for social equity.

The Morristown foundation’s new strategic plan calls for it to “address historical, institutional and structural impediments, so that New Jerseyans of all races and communities have what is needed to realize a quality life,” said Dehne, an attorney from West Windsor.

Her legal background should come in handy for this mission, she believes.

dodge foundation logo“I don’t have all the answers. But I know where to find them, and I know how to work within the law to try new things,” she said.

Officially, Dehne starts next month. As successor to Chris Daggett, who retired last fall, she will oversee an organization with a $310 million endowment.

Established in 1974, the Dodge Foundation has distributed nearly $500 million in grants and technical support to New Jersey nonprofits, with a focus on the arts, education, the environment, “informed communities” (including local journalism), and poetry.

Those areas of interest will continue over the next several years, Dehne said.

Disclosure: MorristownGreen.com has participated in several Dodge Foundation journalism initiatives.

“I think she’ll do great,” said Randy Solomon, executive director of the nonprofit Sustainable Jersey, where Dehne served as a trustee.

Dodge conducted a national search for its fourth president. Solomon said he’s glad the foundation chose someone familiar with New Jersey’s nonprofit landscape. At Sustainable Jersey, Dehne helped redesign the board’s development and fundraising, emphasizing the role of trustees as ambassadors, Solomon said.

“From her first moment on our board, she was engaged, trying to drive us forward. She challenged everyone to define our goals, and not to be passive about achieving them.

Tanuja Dehne

“She’s hard-charging, but recognizes the realities people are dealing with,” he added. “She’s very fair.”

As chairperson of Young Audiences Arts for Learning, a Princeton-based nonprofit that fosters the arts in schools, Dehne helped lead a successful $450,000 fund drive, said Michele Russo, the organization’s president and CEO.

“She is incredibly thoughtful,” strategic, decisive, and poised, said Russo, former coordinator of the Dodge Poetry Festival, North America’s largest poetry event. She views Dehne as “a really good fit” for implementing Dodge’s new vision.

Dehne also has served on the boards of New York Public Radio, Homefront of New Jersey (she is proud of solar panels at its Ewing campus) and her alma mater, Lafayette College in Easton, PA.

In the corporate sector, she has been a director for publicly traded Granite Point Mortgage Trust and Advanced Disposal Services, and worked as chief administration officer and chief of staff at NRG Energy Inc.

‘WORK BRINGS ME JOY’

Dehne said she strives to be a role model for her five kids–ages 8 to 17–and for aspiring businesswomen and Asian American corporate leaders who she mentors via the Forum of Executive Women in Philadelphia and Ascend Pinnacle.

“Work brings me a great deal of joy, because I feel that I’m making a difference in my community and making an impact… in a life that I consider purpose-driven,” said Dehne, whose family is from India. She is the first member born in the United States.

Her father is a retired biology professor from Lafayette College, and her mother is a retired schoolteacher. Dehne’s husband is a history professor at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn.

At Lafayette, Dehne majored in international affairs and anthropology. She earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from Syracuse University.

A former marathoner, Dehne sticks to 5- and 10K races these days.

At 48, “the knees aren’t holding up as well as they used to,” she said with a laugh.

Three years ago, Dehne discovered yoga and became certified as an instructor.

“I found that yoga and meditation and mindfulness were very critical, important parts of my life. And I have incorporated that in the way I work…into my leadership strategy and even into the corporate boardroom,” she said.

Mindful of the growing demands being made on philanthropy, Dehne said she looks forward to thinking outside of the box, to forge “unconventional partnerships and collaborations that may not have made a whole lot of sense in the past.”

If you have ideas, Dehne is ready to give them some thought.

“I’m here, and I’m accessible,” she said.

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