Richard Woo, The Russell Family Foundation

Richard Woo is the Chief Executive Officer of The Russell Family Foundation. He guides the Foundation's strategic planning, programs and community affairs. Prior to arriving at the foundation, he spent many years working in nonprofit organizations and business in California. He is the former executive director of the Levi Strauss Foundation, and has served on the boards of the Council on Foundations, Philanthropy Northwest, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy.

Today, Richard joins the Philanthropy Hour to discuss the work of The Russell Family Foundation, a leader in the communities of the Puget Sound region of Washington, and the greater Pacific Northwest. We talk about the concepts of collective impact, responsive grantmaking, and partnerships. TRFF is specifically involved in impact investing. Richard addresses important projects such as Divest-Invest, a partnership of many foundations to divest from fossil fuels and invest in alternative fuels. He concludes by talking about the importance of fostering relationships, approachability, and inclusiveness. The role of the Foundation is to be accessible to the local community, to strive for endless curiosity and lifelong learning, and support those change agents who are making a difference in the world. This is a reflection of the values of the founders, George and Jane Russell. 


In this interview, we discuss:

  1. The directive given by the founder Jane Russell that the Foundation must be a "place as first resort." (4:30)
  2. Using impact investment vehicles to support the Divest-Invest program, a partnership of Foundations dedicated to investing in clean fuel alternatives. (13:00) 
  3. The need to break from conventional wisdom on grantmaking. (23:15)
  4. The key to building strong relationships, and investing in the development of talent and leadership. (29:15)
  5. Asking questions that other people aren't asking, even the experts. What are the important questions, and how can you get to the heart of a subject? (34:15)


"Our job is to be curious, to ask questions, to reach out, and to be approachable as possible…This kind of approach is why it is as important how we do the work as to what the work is itself. ."    -Richard Woo


  1. TRFF in the news
  2. About Canopy, strengthening the local philanthropic network. 
  3. Mission Investors article. 
  4. DivestInvest Philanthropy link. 
  5. 'The Spirit of Prague' by Ivan Klima, a book recommendation. 


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