Growing Into a New Role at Philanthropy Northwest

Growing Into a New Role at Philanthropy Northwest


Erin Thomas, Talent Partner and Board Liaison

I spent the past seven years at EarthCorps — and am grateful for every second of working to develop a new generation of global environmental leaders. Before that, I came from a similar nonprofit in Colorado, Conservation Legacy, working with youth and young adults to develop leadership and career skills while conserving and restoring the environment through ecological stewardship and volunteer mobilization. At both organizations, I got to design, implement, and evaluate programs; build trails and install native plants; recruit, hire and supervise staff; write grants; coach young adults; inform elected officials; and so much more.

What an amazing decade it has been, and I can’t wait to continue collaborating and supporting these organizations — as a volunteer and donor. In my professional life, I've decided to move into the talent partner and board liaison position at Philanthropy Northwest, to continue growing my skills in organizational development, supporting board members and exploring the social sector from a new lens. In my new role, I hope to strengthen Philanthropy Northwest’s organizational culture, leadership development and the teams that impact our members and the sector as a whole.

Two weeks into this position and I have already found myself in a high-level board meeting strategizing our next three-to-five years, and at the launch of our three-state Momentum Fellowship to empower and encourage diversity and equity in philanthropy. Fortunately, my predecessor, Lisa Galaites, is still here (in a new role as business partner with The Giving Practice) to patiently answer my many questions!

A Leadership Challenge

Among the many things I am excited to learn and do at Philanthropy Northwest, I am passionate about developing leadership in myself, others and teams. I believe communities are healthier and more equitable when people understand their leadership potential and how to activate it. I'm a fan of Robert Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership philosophy and an emerging practitioner in The Leadership Challenge from Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. I believe the notion of Servant Leadership is critical to success in the social sector because it deconstructs traditional leadership and transfers the “power” to the one being served. “The servant leader is a servant first, and begins with the understanding that one wants to serve their constituents first and foremost.” This philosophy was first introduced to me during my time with the Corporation for National and Community Service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.

Finally, professionally and personally I am interested in addressing social and environmental needs, and where the public, private and nonprofit sectors have opportunities to collaborate to be most effective. I am pleased to join growing Evans School of Public Policy and Governance alumni cohort here at Philanthropy Northwest, including Gloris Estrella, program associate; Kristen Holway, senior manager; and Jon Stahl, communications director. I also recently finished a giving project with member organization Social Justice Fund NW, as an economic justice committee member. As a cohort we raised more than $100,000 and made grants to 10 community organizations in the region, including Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. I am also happy to see Serve Washington as one of our new members, whom I have partnered with for the past many years administering national service grants and participating in their network.

I look forward to working with our network and meeting more of you at our upcoming events.

Erin Thomas joined Philanthropy Northwest in September 2015 as our talent partner and board liaison. She can be reached at