Karen Joyner finds calling in working for foodbank

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by Donna C. Gregory

Karen Joyner, the CFO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, helps feed Tidewater’s poor and elderly. In return, her work feeds her soul. “There is no place that I would rather be, even though there’s a small staff and a lot to do,” says Joyner.

During the last fiscal year, the 45-member staff of the Norfolk-based nonprofit distributed 12.5 million pounds of food over a 3,500-square-mile area, stretching west from Virginia Beach to parts of Sussex County.

Joyner’s work goes well beyond balance sheets and budget forecasts. The “other duties as assigned” provision in her job description often translates into giving fundraising speeches, sending thank-you notes to donors, screening job applicants and even occasionally filling in for the receptionist. “Any time that we need someone to do something, everyone has to pitch in to do what it takes,” says Joyner.

Working for a small nonprofit with limited resources is a big shift from Joyner’s previous life. She was vice president/controller at Chesapeake-based Dollar Tree Stores Inc. when she joined the foodbank in 2004. During her 16 years at Dollar Tree, she helped take it public, negotiated the sale of its K&K Toys unit and oversaw several major acquisitions as the company grew exponentially from its roots as a small, family-owned firm. 

Her relationship with the foodbank dates back to 2001 when she was asked to serve on its board of directors. Two years later, Joyner received a call from foodbank CEO Joanne Batson, asking for help in hiring a new CFO.  “I had been on the board, and I had volunteered, and it was something I believed in,” recalls Joyner. “I felt like this was where I needed to be.”

Joyner spent weeks trying to decide whether she wanted to leave Dollar Tree for the foodbank. One Sunday, she went to church, hoping prayer would help her make a decision. Before the service, two congregation members began discussing the church’s food pantry. “I took that as a sign that I was making the right decision,” says Joyner. To help solidify her choice, “the next Sunday when I went to church, my priest got up and talked about how there’s nothing more important than feeding the hungry.”

Batson was surprised when Joyner expressed an interest in the job. “Quite frankly, I laughed. I knew what she was making in the corporate world, and I knew what we could pay in the nonprofit world,” says Batson. “I just couldn’t believe the foodbank would be so fortunate to have someone of her experience and caliber.”

Four years later, Joyner has helped the nonprofit gain a better financial footing by paying off its mortgage and instituting a savings plan. She’s also improved its reputation by persuading Charity Navigator, a watchdog organization, to raise its rating for the foodbank from two to four — the highest score. Last year, Joyner used her financial and human resources expertise to help establish a new foodbank in Las Vegas.

“I do not ever regret coming to the foodbank,” she says. “I absolutely, positively love my job and the impact I can personally make.”


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