Nov 8, 2010

Making a Living or Making a Life? (wise words from Richard Woo)

Twenty-five emerging practitioners in philanthropy, students, and friends of EPIP gathered on Wednesday, October 25th for an EPIP Seattle "Careers in Philanthropy" luncheon at TASTE at the Seattle Art Museum. Our special guest and speaker was Richard Woo, CEO of The Russell Family Foundation.

Many guests attended the luncheon because they had heard Richard speak in the past and were inspired, were seeking advice and guidance from a seasoned leader in the field, or were curious to find out just how one could make a transition from a sex educator in the Bay Area, to working at the Levi-Strauss Foundation and eventually becoming the Executive Director, to becoming the CEO of a family foundation. All these questions and more were answered in a very candid discussion about Richard's personal and professional journey from Las Banas, California, up the coast to Tacoma, WA.
Richard's personal statement for the EPIP luncheon was to "inspire the next generation of philanthropoids by sharing my personal quirky story". His journey was displayed graphically in the form of a map created by Zac Russell, an intern at The Russell Family Foundation, who is a trained graphic facilitator. Zac and Richard collaborated to create a blank map for each participant at the luncheon to map out their own journey - or rather, a "GPS: Global Personal Search" map.

As we traveled up the coast with Richard, many of the lessons that he learned resonated with me, and mirrored in my own journey through philanthropy. For example, Richard worked for several years in a job that he knew he didn't like: "that is when I learned that my pain tolerance was directly related to my risk tolerance". I have felt the pressure to stay in a job that I knew I didn't enjoy, was no longer able to do well, but stayed because my fear of what was ahead of me. In Richard's words, "Sometimes you have to let go to see what's to come."

If you find yourself in that position, Richard's advice is simple and sound: "Once you figure out what you want to do, you have to tell people. People want to help you and take pride in your success". That was how Richard found himself leaving the Levi-Strauss Foundation and moving to Tacoma, WA to work for a family foundation.

One of the most inspiring parts of the luncheon was when staff members from The Russell Family Foundation shared what is like to work for such an inspiring leader and storyteller. TRFF has a commitment to life-long learning, and staff members are supported, challenged, and celebrated in their growth. "The culture that Richard brings to the foundation is more transparent. We are truly a team. Richard taught me not to hide my mistakes and attempt to look competent if I am struggling".

For more pearls of wisdom from the luncheon, follow @EPIPSeattle on Twitter for a more a real-time recap of the event.

Many thanks to Richard Woo for spending the afternoon with EPIP Seattle, and to the staff members of TRFF for helping to put together such a successful event. If you'd like more information on EPIP Seattle's Careers in Philanthropy luncheons, email

Past speakers have included Ann Kelly of the Global Philanthropy Group and Charles Fields (formerly of the Marguerite Casey Foundation).

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