Leaving a Legacy of Leadership

Departing wisdom from a veteran AE on community and commitment.

The William R. Magel Award of Excellence, which Ginger Downs, RCE, CAE, will receive at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Chicago in November, is the cherry on the top of a long and distinguished career in REALTOR® association management. Downs has been recognized numerous times for her work and commitment in the real estate industry, and, although she plans to retire early next year, her legacy in leadership will remain.

Downs started her real estate career more than 30 years ago at the Spokane Association of REALTORS®, moved to lead the Seattle King County REALTORS®, and has been CEO of the Chicago Association of REALTORS® since 2005.

“Life as a REALTOR® AE is never boring,” she says. “In order to be successful in the long term, remain flexible and adaptable, bring your A game to the show, work hard, never stop learning, keep the members front and center, and surround yourself with people smarter than yourself.”

Under Downs’ leadership the Chicago association has enjoyed volunteer involvement from a wide range of top industry professionals in the city, along with a dedicated and enthusiastic Young Professionals Network of next-generation REALTORS®.

“CAR’s success at engagement has been due in large part to the passion and commitment of its volunteer leadership,” says Downs. “Diversity is the fabric of life in Chicago, and it is a strategic decision by our leadership and staff to actively seek out local industry leaders of diverse age ranges, firm representation, ethnicity, cultural background, and business specialties.”

The Chicago association has used this intentional engagement strategy with its younger members to build one of the largest and most active YPNs in the country.

“Our YPN community is our future industry and association leadership,” says Downs.  “They are our social media champions and they promote on our behalf.” Downs’ faith in her YPN advisory board is so strong that she invited them to develop the association’s last strategic plan. “It was tweaked slightly by our board of directors, but overall their vision has guided us for the past three years.”

With the goal of building a strong member community, CAR has actively partnered with local chapters of real estate specialty associations and created a formal advocacy coalition with other real estate groups. “We also partner with local higher education institutions, including DePaul University, Roosevelt University, and John Marshall Law School, to create education, scholarships, and programs to serve our members and the greater real estate community,” says Downs, who has served on the boards of all three organizations.

Community outreach for Downs extends beyond the real estate industry to charitable causes and initiatives, most notably fighting homelessness.

“The idea of not having a home to go to each day or not knowing where your next meal would come from always motivated me to share what I have with others less fortunate,” she says. “I actively began working on fighting homelessness in the 1970s when I lived in San Francisco. A few years after moving to Chicago, past CAR President John Vranas introduced me to The Emergency Fund, whose mission was to prevent homelessness, and I began serving on its board of directors.” Later, Downs helped facilitate a merger between this organization and the Chicago Alliance, which combines immediate resources with long-term strategies to address the complex issue of homelessness. She served for two years as the president of the new organization, All Chicago – Making Homelessness History, which administers more than  $60 million in HUD funding, runs homelessness programs, and does research on various aspects of homelessness. “The Chicago association’s board of directors is committed to continuing this work after I leave the organization, and for that, I am eternally grateful.”

The search is already underway for Downs’ replacement at CAR. “I’m doing everything I can to leave a solid organizational foundation for the next CEO,” she says.

Although Downs will leave CAR, she is not leaving the industry. As a consultant, she hopes to put her expertise to work helping other REALTOR® associations with a wide variety of challenges. 

Profile by Carolyn Schwaar

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