2019 Chief Operating Officer of the Year: Kimberly Venner

Kimberly Venner
Vice President of Operations
Tanager Place

Chief Operating Officer of the Year – Nonprofit

Nominated by Justin Gingrich, Grant Specialist


Kim Venner has devoted an entire career to the human services field, but her passion and dedication has shone brightest in her last four years as vice president of operations for Tanager Place.

Ms. Venner was selected as this year’s Chief Operating Officer of the Year for her contributions that rippled through the nonprofit, which provides a range of mental health services for children.

Those contributions ranged from culture initiatives to leading a project to select a new Electronic Health Records vendor that addressed billing problems with the state’s privatized Medicaid system.

“She is a strategic thinker, which has been a great benefit to Tanager Place,” wrote Okpara Rice, Tanager Place CEO, in Ms. Venner’s nomination. “She is able to recognize opportunities to make systems and programs more efficient and place employees in the roles and projects that best fit their skill sets. She is not afraid to challenge the status quo if there is a better way to do something.”

Ms. Venner came to Tanager Place six years ago, and was soon assigned to start its Pediatric Integrated Health Home Program. The program was a pilot project, but within a year, it served more than 1,200 young people, making it largest of any program in Iowa. It has gone on to consistently meet all of the incentive outcomes established by the state.

“We eventually helped provide support and consultation to other organizations in the state when the program was expanded,” Ms. Venner told the CBJ. “It is still an amazing program six years later.”

Ms. Venner also helped Tanager Place tackle its biggest challenge in recent years: adjusting to the privatization of Medicaid in Iowa. She helped prepare staff for those changes and support them through the transition, communicating a vision of how the agency would be able to succeed in the new service delivery environment.

Now in the fourth year under the state’s managed care system of reimbursement, Tanager Place is thriving and remains focused on its mission, Ms. Venner said, and its staff is serving as champions for families adversely affected by the changes.

Ms. Venner credits her earliest mentor, Mary Flynn, for her decision to go into the social work field. Before she had a degree or experience in the field, Ms. Flynn gave her a job and boosted her at-times sagging confidence. John Rogers, a professor at Mount Mercy University, was another mentor who challenged her as a student and lent his support during her career.

One of the initiatives Ms. Venner takes pride in at Tanager Place is creation of a structure for leadership development in the agency, and building a high-performance work culture that promotes transparency and accountability. She advises newcomers in the field to take care of themselves emotionally, build a strong network, and to constantly remind themselves that their work is making a difference in the lives of young people.

“Sometimes you will see how you are helping to make change or improve lives,” she said. “Other times you will just be planting seeds you may not see grow. But at the end of a hard day… hold on to knowing you are making a difference.”

– Dave DeWitte