A Q&A with Renee Moe

The United Way VP and incoming president of Rotary Club of Madison talks helping others here and around the world

Photo by Noah Willman

Where’d you grow up?
I’m a military kid. I was born on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, and my family moved to Ramstein Air Base in Germany when I was just six months. My brother Eric joined the family while we lived on two air bases in Okinawa, Japan, before we all moved again to Northfield, Wisconsin, near where my dad grew up (my mom is from bustling Taipei, Taiwan).

You’ve been at United Way since you were a college intern. How’s the organization changed since then?
When I first started, our fundraising goal was at the top of our organization’s annual goals and objectives one-pager. Now, our education, safety and health goals are at the top of the page … What holds steady is our commitment to inclusion, diversity, partnership, hope and the value that change starts here, now and with all of us.

What’s the most exciting part of your job at United Way?
Third grader Maggie going to school with the confidence that she can now read as well as her classmates. Don, chin held high, employed at a stable job after achieving his high school equivalency. Jennifer safe in her own apartment, shoulders lighter because her two little boys have nutritious food to eat and beds where they can sleep. Edwin, 86, able to stay in his home because his fall risk is lowered. Infant Joanna delighted to chew on her very first board book. And there are so many more.

Day in and out, we partner with nonprofits, businesses, government agencies and community members from every Dane County neighborhood to improve lives in the areas of education, safety and health. I believe in what we can do together with my heart and soul.

Why did you get involved with Rotary?
Rotary sent me on a young professionals exchange to Asia, and I was exposed to the concept of Service Above Self and being welcomed with open arms by people who knew nothing about me other than that I was “Rotary-approved.” Understanding that Rotary is about leaders interested in serving, connecting and continuous learning motivated me to join, and the hundreds of relationships I’ve made keep me there.

What’s it like to be in a historic service club today?
In 2013, the Rotary Club of Madison (Downtown Madison) is celebrating our one-hundredth anniversary. No matter what technological, medical, environmental, economic or other forces come to being in the next century, people will always want to connect, add value, be a part of something bigger than themselves. And, the fact that our world continues to get smaller and the Rotary network continues to expand around the globe, Rotary can be a major conduit of meaningful relationships and dialogue. Consider our Polio Plus campaign; when it began in 1985, there were an estimated 350,000 cases of polio around the world. This year, there are only 225 cases in three countries (Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan). India was declared polio-free in January 2012. I look forward to what is next.

What’s the first thing you do every day?
Greet our one-year-old baby girl who shouts out from her crib, “Mornin’!” Our three-year-old son usually makes an appearance soon after, blanket, pillow and stuffie in arms.

What’s your best habit-and your biggest flaw?
My best habit is being action-oriented and stimulating ideas, process, decisions and accountabilities to keep momentum going. I am driven to get things done. My biggest flaw is I have such a sense of urgency that I need to work reeeeally hard to slow myself down and be in the moment. Raising kids has helped TREMENDOUSLY with this!

What goal are you currently working on?
See biggest flaw. : ) Professionally, my challenge is working with a team of hundreds of volunteers and the development team at United Way to transform our current fundraising campaign. United Way’s knowledge of the community is deep, our relationships are strong, and the results of our work are measurable and changing lives; we are poised to help companies use philanthropy and volunteerism as a core business strategy, and to help individuals achieve their philanthropic dreams. We’d like to provide opportunities for every Dane County resident to feel personally invited and emotionally engaged to give, advocate or volunteer. It's a very exciting and worthwhile challenge.

What’s your favorite pick-me-up?
Hanging out with my husband, Jason Salus! He is HILARIOUS.

Describe yourself in three words.
Energy, empathy, results-oriented.

What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired?
Talk to others. Ask questions. Listen! Sing. Read. Google something. In fact, if I ever need a jolt, I can simply click through United Way’s website—the statistics on community need, identified research-based solutions, and stories of individuals and what they’ve achieved, that always gets me revved up and recharged for whatever is next.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Family first. Work second. Everything else is a bonus.

What’s the last song you listened to?
“Baby Beluga.”

What do you consider a thrill?
New experiences! I believe everything is hard until it’s easy.

What do you wish you could tell your twenty-year-old self?
You really should care about your hair/clothes/shoes/etc. It matters WAY more than you think or want it to.

What’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten?
Smoked salmon in Norway; that probably had more to do with the ambiance than the actual taste, but it was heavenly.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Hopped a train to Kunming, China, after my friend’s backpack strap got caught in an X-ray machine and the untangling process caused us to miss our train to Shanghai.

What makes you proud?
Seeing others accomplish things they didn’t think they could accomplish. I love this!

What would you change about Madison?
We talk a lot about diversity and yet there is so much more opportunity to have real dialogue about what people think and why. It’s easy to pre-judge or fill in the story blanks without really understanding the story. There is a lot of intellectual curiosity here; that, coupled with civil discourse would, I believe, help us get more done in big ways. Our community is 500,000. That’s a number we can get our arms around. When we look at the kids who aren’t succeeding, the families in poverty, the people who feel left out and unwanted, I know there is a way for us to come together—real dialogue and thinking through others’ points of view is hard work, and it helps bridge sensitive issues so we ALL come out stronger on the other end.

It’s Saturday night. Where are you and what are you doing?
Home on Madison’s north side with hubby and kids, running around outside or turning our living room into a dance floor, pirate island, grocery store, art museum, train station, campground. Or celebrating community and meeting new friends at a nonprofit event.

What frustrates you?
When people don’t share if or why they are upset or disagree—if we could all be more honest and not let feedback feel so personal (even if it is), I think we’d be more confident, happier and more fulfilled.

What’s surprised you lately?
I’m continually humbled by the numbers and depth of offers to help—whether at United Way, Rotary or in the neighborhood, someone will always be there to help you do the right thing. It’s not so much a surprise as something I never want to take for granted because so many people either don’t have or don’t feel they have that sense of connection and support. It’s something to always remember when a little boost will make all the difference. I hope I can be that little boost for others once in a while.

Renee Moe is United Way of Dane County’s vice president of resource development. She is also the youngest and first nonwhite woman president of Downtown Rotary.

Find more First Person Q&As here

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