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A Tribute to Colleen Willoughby

Tuesday, July 05, 2022 7:16 PM | Nancy Clark (Administrator)

By Rebekah Bonde
Philanos Board Treasurer
Washington Women’s Foundation

In 1998, I sat in the congregation of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, listening to a Sunday morning 'Moment for Mission'. Two women shared of their experience in a collective giving group and how they were learning an intentional modality of grant making that was changing how they viewed philanthropy. I was transfixed. It was one of those rare moments that etched in my brain because it felt immediately significant, and I noted three things: 

  1. The buy-in was $1,000, which was more than my monthly rent as a 27-year-old in the nascent stages of her career.
  2. What would it take to participate in this level of giving; and
  3. Who in the world is Colleen Willoughby?

18 years later, I am in Colleen's kitchen pulling out things to make an impromptu cheese and cracker platter at her direction and talking about scarves and Gen-X giving patterns.

I could spend the next several minutes itemizing Colleen's many accomplishments at Washington Women's, the Evans School at UW, or even the fact she has a Wikipedia entry. But I'd rather tell you about how her work directly changed me even though she had no idea who I was until I joined the Philanos Board (née WCGN) in 2015.  

After my husband and I moved from Seattle to Austin, TX, a neighbor introduced me to Impact Austin as a way to use my professional skill set in a meaningfully volunteer manner and to meet other women seeking to make an impact in their community.  I joined and attended my first WCGN conference in 2012 when Kathy LeMay spoke, and she asked us to write an audacious goal on a piece of paper that we had to fulfill within one year.  It was always my worst fear to be called upon in public, and since I'll probably never have to do it…I wrote down "speak in public about philanthropy."

I saw Colleen at that conference and oh-so vaguely remembered something about Washington Women's.  Colleen spoke about the genesis of WaWF, about how important it was for women to give philanthropically in their own name, and why she chose $1,000 - the level at which you first get your name printed in a charity's list of donors.  And then the memory of the 'Moment for Mission' came flooding back, and I had to pinch myself: "I can't believe I'm here."

Within 12 months of that conference, I was (very nervously) giving my first talk, standing up and being called on by name. I made my first donation as ME, not "the wife of…" And I found a calling that has elevated not only my voice and my financial impact, but more importantly my sense of self. I never, ever thought I would chair a Board of Directors, or sit on a panel of city leaders as an Impact Austin representative or write for a national publication on behalf of Philanos. Yes, all this because of the women's collective giving movement because Colleen started a movement. How ironic that when we all come to the collective we meet ourselves front and center, sometimes for the first time.

Since that first conference, I've spoken at several Philanos conferences, captained a boat race, ran to meet a political idol, and aggressively shook her hand on a street corner in Washington DC, stood up and said more at work, and even orated to a large group of Presbyterians when selected as my church's 'Woman of the Month'.  I think about the 27-year-old women who were in the audience that day, looking at me and wondering, "What would it take…". 

Most of us start in the audience, and now we are in front talking to the next generation of women.  We are the leaders of today so we can model leadership for tomorrow. And let me tell you, you never know who is listening. It's probably someone you've never met and never will, until…

Thank you, Colleen.

Watch the 2020 PowerUP! slideshow tribute to Colleen!

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