Renee Moe succeeds Leslie Ann Howard as
CEO of United Way of Dane County
Caring Power
retiring CEO of the United Way of Dane County. Originally hired at United Way in 1981, Howard has led the organization
for over a quarter century and has led the growth in its funding base from just under $6 million in 1989 to almost $20
million in 2014. Renee Moe, who will succeed Howard on January 1, has some big shoes to fill.

For the past 18 years, Moe has worked at United Way beginning as a summer intern while she was still a UW-Madison
journalism student. Moe has learned extensively from Howard during that time and shares the same commitment to the
values of United Way, the same passion to effect change in the Dane County area and the need to show results for the
investments that United Way stakeholders are making.

And yet, Howard and Moe have different leadership styles. While Howard may be more direct in moving the agenda,
Moe is a natural collaborator, perhaps, in part, due to her Asian American roots.

“Leslie and I would often times in my early career go around and around,” Moe recalled. “‘Renee, you need to focus on
results. Results, results, results.’ And I would say, ‘No, it’s about the relationships. You get the results through the
relationships, Guanxi.’ Guanxi is the Chinese term for relationships. She hammered me and it was a performance
issue, but not like I was written up. It was something that she felt that I really had to work out of. And I remember we had
this thing for a number of months and I just couldn’t get myself unwound from this. She said it was because I was
fearful. I said, ‘No, I’m pretty gutsy.’ It wasn’t fear. And three months went by. I churned on this for months. And I
remember thinking, ‘Oh it’s shame. I feel shame because my boss feels this way about me. I am ashamed that I am
not performing the way that I am supposed to. And I am ashamed that I am not behaving the way she feels I need to
behave.’ And I thought, ‘That is so Asian.’ And as soon as I could name it, I was like, ‘Okay, I know what this is.’ And I
was able to deal with it. I’m pretty direct. But I do think that I believe in bringing people together. I’m hopeful. There is a
poetry to life. There is a circle in our rhythm. And I think in Western culture, we kind of push toward a line. In Asian
culture, a circle is more holistic. And does that influence me and my decision-making and how I lead? Absolutely, that is
who I am. I can’t take that out. It’s part of the package.”

Since college, United Way is the only employer that Moe has ever had. However, through her marketing and campaign
duties, work on United Way-housed taskforces and community involvement, Moe has her finger on the pulse of the
community. In January, Moe will become co-chair with the NAACP’s Greg Jones of the taskforce that is looking into
police-community relations. Moe has been there as United Way took on the role of community convener.

“We have been called to help convene and collaborate a number of times over my history,” Moe recalled. “The first
example would be Schools of Hope. How do you bring together parents, teachers, unions and the school district and
everyone who can agree on the issue, but not on how to get it done? There is a lot of blame and judgment and really
figuring out what we all agree on and how to move that forward. When Kathleen Falk was in office, she called us all
together to help convene the health council. The health council is all of the hospitals in town and the non-profits who are
working the healthcare space to figure out how do we have better healthcare outcomes across the community even
though they are very competitive entities. How do we collaborate for better outcomes? That is something that we are
uniquely positioned to be able to do because of the trust, because we are non-partisan and we need to be the neutral
table. Every time we do a delegation, we try to do that around early childhood or seniors or pathways out of poverty. How
do you bring together not only the people experiencing the issues in the community and the non-profit service providers
and advocates as well as the governmental sectors in that area like law enforcement, the school district and then, of
course, the donors and the corporate community who might have volunteer or financial or other resources. Their
employees may be experiencing the same issues. How do we collaborate and come to a better conclusion?”

Becoming the CEO of United Way was not the reason that Moe joined the organization 18 years ago. She has advanced
as the opportunities have become available at United Way. And even as Howard announced internally that she would
be retiring three years ago, it wasn’t a given that Moe would apply for the position.

“When this job came around — and we knew that Leslie was retiring three years ago and the board asked her to get
someone ready — it made sense from a VP perspective that I had been working toward developing myself and at that
point, I started thinking that I would be interested,” Moe said. “I really struggled with, ‘Do I want this job for the right
reasons?’ Do I want this job just because I think I should? Do I want this job because it’s the next step? Do I want this
job because it is a public position? Do I want the job because it is more money? Do I want the job for x, y and z
reasons? I didn’t know if things fit quite right. And then one day, I was sitting in one of the meeting rooms downstairs.
And I was writing something and I remember thinking, ‘The reason you want this job is because you want access to the
resources to help create change.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, of course.’ And once I had that ‘Aha,’ it was fine. United Way is an
organization that helps channel the caring power of the community. So if you can channel all of the great will and desire
and awareness now more than ever in terms of what is going on in the community, how do we help bring together the
understanding of what it is like to experience racial injustice or experience poverty or have the same aspirations that
everyone else has, but not be able to fulfill those because of things outside of your control? How do you help bring the
understanding to people who feel like, ‘Life is pretty good here’ or ‘I want to help those folks’ or ‘Why don’t you pull
yourself up by your bootstraps?’ How do you then help people understand that we are all part of the community? It’s not
‘us’ giving charitably to those poor people and we’re done. This is about our community. This is about how we care
about each other. It’s just the right thing to do. And so, once I got to that point, I didn’t feel weird about applying. You have
to have kind of an ego to be able to do it. Right? I was kind of uncomfortable with that part of it. But I kind of hearken back
to what that volunteer said, which ‘Who else could do it better?’ And I thought that if I didn’t try — I know the organization
and the community and there are lots of people out there who could do it better or do it differently — in this space right
now, I feel like I have something to offer, so it would be irresponsible to not to go for it.”

It was hardly a given that Moe would get the position. The national United Way network of agencies often times leads to
United Way CEOs moving up in their careers by taking on leadership roles in successive United Way agencies. United
Way of Dane County undertook a national search.

“I think they ended up with about 137 applicants from eight countries, 33 states and a bunch from Wisconsin and Dane
County,” Moe said. “I thought that was terrific. I think the search firm felt that things are going very well. We have a very
healthy base to build on and Leslie has obviously been a tremendous leader over these many years and has done a lot
of great things. And the community is changing. I think the new leader is always an opportunity to figure out what is the
new direction. What needs to change? What needs to happen? I think the board and the search committee are really
interested in amplifying United Way’s connection with the community and all members of the community. Are we a
corporate organization? Do we understand the voice of the community? Are we driving change? Are the agency’s
positions ones as leaders? How do we collaborate in a true, cohesive way? All of those are questions that came up. Is
the board engaged? Are we having deep enough conversations? Are there opportunities to fundraise differently in the
changing economy? All of those different things came up, I do think they must have thought that things are pretty healthy.
They must be very confident that I was able to keep the best of what has made us good and also change the things that
we need to change.”

The Madison/Dane County community has evolved over the past 25 years. As the response to the Race to Equity report
has shown, many community residents don’t want to just contribute money to a good cause, get a good feeling and
then forget about it. They want to be engaged and be a member of the change makers. This trend is not lost on Moe and
United Way.

“I think that we do need to change our revenue model,” Moe said. “When you think about workplace campaigns and
giving to this big pool that volunteers give to other programs and organizations, people want to be more active in their
philanthropy. With technology and the way that other non-profits are fundraising, we need to be thinking really differently
because a huge part of what helps us be successful is the ability to raise resources to create change. That is a huge
priority. The next thing obviously is create more results. How do we build more collaborations, build more trust and
really empower the community to create the change it wants to see? And I think we’ve gotten more skilled and more
nimble about community engagement and really leveraging the assets of organizations and people. And I think there is
some opportunity to keep that growing. I do think that from an awareness perspective, so many people don’t know what
we do. We were founded in 1922, so there is a long legacy of what United Way has done. And people think it is a big
fundraising machine that supports a bunch of agencies in the community and it is an easy way to give. Those things are
all true. But what we are really trying to do is change the human condition. We are really trying to help the community for
the better. How do we help people not only know that because of what we are saying and what they are seeing or
reading, but also what they feel? Do you feel engaged enough in the issues to have your own point of view? And once
you have a point of view, do you feel like you have a way to act on your impulse or desire to give or to advocate or
volunteer? I feel that is a big responsibility that we have right now. And we can do it that even more.”

During the three-month transition in which Howard has remained as CEO and Moe is president and executive vice
president of resource development and marketing. It is allowing Howard to transition the CEO duties to Moe and for
Moe to begin forming her relationship with the Dane County community in her new role.

“My priorities right now, in the short term, are one a successful campaign because I am still in charge of the campaign,”
Moe said. “Two is hiring my successor. We’ll be posting for that position probably in November. I just didn’t want to do it
during the campaign. I felt it would be too disruptive to our team. And third, is communication, reaching out to people
and having conversations. I’m going to stage it with agencies and non-profits, some community leaders, staff, our
December board meeting, January CEOs and February donors and March non-profits or community groups. I’m going
to layer the rollout to enhance the listening. I know it’s not about me. It’s about hearing the community and saying a few
things. Number one, we want to be transparent and open. We want to listen and understand. We want to know who else
we need to talk to. So for now, in this change, it makes sense for me as the new leader to go out and experience it. And
what we do with it impacts the organizational priority and how we are going to structure what is going to happen next.”

The commitment to change will continue from Howard to Moe as Moe leads United Way into a new era of caring.
By Jonathan Gramling

Leslie Ann Howard has been a force to be reckoned with in the Madison area
since she assumed leadership positions at United Way. Her direct manner and
approach, while alienating some, has driven United Way’s Agenda for Change
forward. During the past few months, it almost seems that Howard has been taking
a victory lap, of sorts, while still remaining engaged. Whether it has been receiving
an award from La Movida during Hispanic Heritage Month, speaking at Kajsiab
House’s reception or addressing the Madison Downtown Rotary, Howard has been
receiving her accolades as she continues to work hard. It isn’t hard to imagine that
Howard, in the early evening of December 31, will still be trying to get things done.
And then on January 1, a new year will start and a new era for United Way will start
under Renee Moe’s leadership.


Outside of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, perhaps no other person has made as
large of an impact on the Madison metropolitan area than Leslie Ann Howard, the
(L-R) Leslie Ann Howard, Renee Moe