Kathy Merchant has had a profound impact on philanthropy and Cincinnati since coming here nearly 18 years ago to be president and CEO of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

Under her leadership, the foundation, one of the nation’s largest community foundations, has touched everything from housing in Over-the-Rhine to workforce development. The foundation has made grants of more than $700 million to a wide variety of community organizations during her tenure and its assets have more than doubled to more than $500 million.

In June, Merchant, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., will step down to tackle some new challenges and pursue her avocation as wine educator.

Why are you stepping down now?

The foundation is in really great shape, and I have these other things I want to do, so now is a good time to leave. I’m going to spend time as a consultant in philanthropy. I have two subject matter points of passion. One is education, cradle to career. The second is impact investing. That’s an umbrella term that encompasses some more fine-grained approaches to using your foundation assets to invest in your community. You can make a loan to the minority business accelerator, for example, and they’d lend it to a specific business with whom they’re working and when the terms of the note are up they repay us and we can do it again with somebody else. We have a $10 million authority from our board to do that kind of investing here. I want to help other foundations learn how to do that.

What are you most proud of during your time here?

Until I was hired, this foundation had been what I’ll call responsive. But the board thought we should step up to leadership a little bit more aggressively. We’ve done that. In many ways we’ve come to be counted on as an organization that doesn’t shy away from tough issues like racial disparities and which has some expertise in community development. There are endless examples of things we’ve seen and decided to do, or stepped up to with other community leaders. That’s my favorite part of what we do, and what we’re known for now.

How has philanthropy changed over the last couple decades?

The foundation’s assets got whacked twice since I’ve been here. First was the bursting of the dot-com investment bubble in 2000 and then the Great Recession in 2008. But because of the first one, we were much stronger and better prepared when the recession hit. In fact, we were able to keep our grant-making to the community flat. We coined a new phrase at that time: Flat is the new up.

What will you miss when you leave?

There’s a list of bazillion things I’ll miss, starting with the people at the foundation. We are like family here. And it’s fun to be known in the community. I joke everybody wants to know me because I give away money. I don’t take that to heart, but it’s been a great opportunity to meet people. I really treasure that privilege.