Welcome to the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay’s Inspired Giving podcast, where we spend time with innovators and change-makers in the world of non-profits and social enterprise in Tampa Bay. Since 1990, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay has been inspiring creative philanthropy and leadership in the Tampa Bay region by working with donors, non-profit organization, and community leaders to build a more vibrant community.
On this Giving Tuesday episode of Inspired Giving, Wilma Norton hosts Willi Rudowsky and Hal Freedman, local philanthropists at the Community Foundation and connecting hubs of the St. Petersburg community. Rudowsky and Freedman talk making the move to St. Petersburg from San Francisco, their "gateway" cause to start giving, and the many organizations they've become deeply involved with in the Tampa Bay area. They share how they chose to start giving and the many organizations with which they are deeply involved through both time and money.
"But there's something about St. Pete that feels like the city loves you back. It's just welcoming, everybody is accessible."
"Our superpower is connections and relationships. We just talk to everybody; we don't know any strangers."
Table of Contents
(0:00 – 3:50) Introduction
(3:50 – 4:53) Philanthropy in San Francisco
(4:53 – 6:51) Growth and Development
(6:51 – 9:05) Retirement at St. Petersburg
(9:05 – 10:28) What Gets You Revved Up?
(10:28 – 12:05) The Learning and Feeling Process
(12:05 – 14:38) Relationships
(14:38 – 18:54) The Thought Processes and Decisions
(18:54 – 23:10) Kinds of Opportunities
(23:10 – 25:35) How to Become Philanthropists
(25:35 – 29:49) The Advice
(29:49 – 32:21) Benefits of Philanthropy
Wilma: Welcome to another edition of the Inspired Giving Podcast from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. I’m Wilma Norton. I’m Vice President of Marketing and Communication at the Foundation. Today, I have with me Hal Freedman and Willi Rudowsky. Did I get that right, Willi?
Willi: You did.
Wilma: And they are local residents and generous folks who do a lot of good in the community and we’re just going to have a little conversation about why they do what they do, and how they would like others to be inspired to do good things in the community. So welcome.
Willi and Hal: Thank you.
Wilma: If you could just tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you came – you live in St. Petersburg – how you came here and started to get involved in the community.
Willi: We moved here from San Francisco almost 20 years ago and getting involved in the community turned out to be incredibly easy, particularly, if you ever come from San Francisco. Because San Francisco – I think it’s because you live in one community, and very often work in another and the commutes are ridiculous. People here complain about traffic; they just have no clue.
Wilma: I haven’t driven in San Francisco, lately.
Willi: Because you’re working and because you’re working in different communities, it’s kind of hard to feel where you really belong. I think it’s politically that way; as well as philanthropically that way. You tend to have entertainment venues that you frequent, and restaurants that you frequent in different communities. But beyond that, it isn’t as easy and it’s also not as welcoming.
Willi: Boards seem to ask corporations to supply people, but they really want the people to have the company’s letterhead on their list of sponsors rather than to have James Smith or John Doe as a particular member; we’re all fungible.
Hal: That’s pretty much it. But the way we got here was by accident. I had never been to Florida before May 1999 and probably one of the few Jewish kids out of Manhattan that had never been to Florida. And, we ended up here, as I say, by accident, and there was an energy that just felt like something was about to pop, and within three or four months, we owned a house and a few months later, we moved and our friends in San Francisco thought we’re crazy but here we are. And as Willi said, we’ve always lived in cities. I grew up Manhattan and then lived in San Francisco for 30 years – that we loved. But there’s something about St. Pete that feels like the city loves you back. It’s just welcoming, everybody is accessible – whether it’s in the arts, whether it’s in politics, sports. It really doesn’t matter. Everybody is welcome.
Wilma: I tell people that this area has all of the big city amenities – pro sports and orchestra, arts – but you still have the best of the small town feeling of knowing people and being able to be connected.
Hal: I say small-town kitsch because it is. I don’t know if they’ll cut this out, but it’s like if somebody farts they do fireworks and have a parade. I’ve never been in a place with more parades and more fireworks.
Wilma: It’s true. We have a lot of – I think you live near the water so probably get to see them all.
Hal: We get a lot of it.
Wilma: Were you involved philanthropically when you were in San Francisco?
Willi: To a certain extent, yes. We supported… I think more than anything else, we supported a lot of the AIDS-related issues and that was because we had a lot of friends who were affected by that.
Willi: So, it’s easy to support something where you know beneficiaries or people who are so actively involved in running an organization. I think in our case it was more beneficiaries of those organizations.
Hal: I agree. I was in the garment industry at the time and we were losing a lot of people – pattern makers, designers, our neighbor. So, we got involved in Quill Project and Project Open Hand. Those kinds of organizations; and neither of us were big contributors to the United Way or the American Heart Association or those we felt the overhead on those organizations was much too greedy, that the money didn’t go to the programs where we wanted the money to go.
Wilma: And I think we find that with a lot of people who like you become very involved charitably over time is that, there’s usually a gateway opportunity. There is a gateway cause or something like that. So, how did that for you grow, you are now involved in all sorts of things around town. I think despite the fact that you’ve only been here 20 years, you know everybody in town and everyone knows you, how did your involvement in civic and other organizations grow and develop?
Hal: We have different kinds of organizations that were involved with and then there’s overlap. I’m probably more involved with the arts-related organizations. Willi tends to be involved with more social issue, current events kinds of organizations.
Willi: I think a lot of it started with Studio@620.
Wilma: Bob Devin Jones has a way of drawing people in, doesn’t he?
Willi: Well, for me it was the social justice roundtables and the communities that came together for events there, as much as the events themselves.
Hal: Yeah, I agree. I was on the board for a while in that organization.
Hal: And it was the most diverse audience and possibly just because it was one block south of Central that made it in a part of town that attracted people from both directions. It’s been interesting because American Stage, I’m on the board of that now. The August Wilson Century Cycle drew a very diverse group of people to the audiences and to be acting side of it as well, and that’s carried through to Race in the Sun last year to two other shows this year that there is an active interest in bringing a diverse audience, a new audience to theater. That was something that I saw at Studio@620, that I’ve kind of enjoyed the other organizations I’m involved in as well.
Wilma: We didn’t say this. Did you retire to St. Petersburg or…?
Hal: Not really. (laughs)
Wilma: Are you not a retiring kind of guy, Hal?
Hal: No. I was working for Visa, my boss liked face-to-face, so what I couldn’t telecommute which I could’ve done given what I was doing at the time. So, I worked as a contractor for them for a short time, and then just went back to – I’d been selling some real estate in San Francisco as well, and just became a real estate broker and broker associate for Charles Ruttenberg and still do a little of that but not a lot. Friends and referrals.
Willi: And I was with Williams-Sonoma Inc. And my boss was also big on face time even though I was dealing with people in every time zone but our own. When it was time to move I said, “You know, I’m not what I do.” So, it’s more important to be me and go someplace where I’ll be happy than it is to stay with the job, even though I loved what I did. So, we came here, we were doing a little renovation on our house, and he was traveling, and I was the one that was elected or assigned to monitor the contract. When the work was done, I don’t know what I want to do the ended up going back to school, twice.
Hal: She got two master’s degrees, two more.
Willi: And then went to work for 7 1/2 years. I am officially retired.
Hal: At the Poynter Institute, which kept her involvement with the kind of the current events.
Wilma: Oh, absolutely.
Hal: Side of her life.
Wilma: We have that in common to besides the fact that our names are very similar. I spent a long time working at what was then the St. Petersburg Times.
Willi: I’m sorry, it’s always the St. Petersburg Times.
Wilma: Indeed, it always is, to me anyway. So, do you now feel like that your civic involvement is, is at work?
Willi: Well, I’m on the board of the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs, which is a 3+ day conference every year. I think it’s the seventh year this year. Where we bring people in from all over the world to discuss pretty much current affairs and how America plays out in those affairs. So, I get a lot of what I need out of that.
Wilma: One of the questions that I always ask folks when they come in – that’s a good segue is – what gets you out of bed in the morning? As you said what gets you revved up to be you every day?
Willi: One thing that gets us up is a…
Hal: Six-month old kitten. (laughs)
Willi: And she controls the time that we get out of bed, but other than that, meetings, probably. I’ve gotten myself where I can get up at about seven. Not because I want to get up at seven, but why? Other than that? I don’t know. I don’t know that there’s anything in particular that says I’ve got, other than meetings, that there’s something I have to be doing.
Hal: Well, there’s yoga.
Willi: Yeah, that’s one day a week at that hour.
Wilma: What about you, Hal? What gets you revved up to go through your day?
Hal: Well, Daphne, first of all. She’s like – in your face. I tend to get up a little later because I go to bed a little later.
Hal: And again, it’s nothing in particular. It’s like every day is been wonderful since we’ve been here. We love the weather, despite the heat. We live in a place with a beautiful view. It’s just the pleasant place to be and that gets us up and rolling.
Wilma: And rolling and off to do all of the things that you do.
Hal: Takes me a while to get there. (laughs)
Willi: He’s a slow roller.
Wilma: Well, you talked about the World Affairs Conference. What kind of keeps you learning and feeling like you’re contributing to both society and to our community because I think you do a lot of that?
Willi: We do a lot of theater. I mean, he’s on the board of American Stage, I’m on the board of Jobsite in Tampa. So, exposure to those ideas, we listen to public radio in the car and our alarm clocks are set to that. Couldn’t get through the weekend without, “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.” Which you have to know what’s going.
Willi: It’s just like we started out listening to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show and I’ve stuck with the Daily Show. And again, you can’t say you get your news from that because you have to know what the news is to put what you get into perspective. And frankly, this is commercial for Trevor Noah because he’s bringing in more people of color. I’m learning a whole lot more cultural things that I’ve ever been exposed to based on the authors and the celebrities of all sorts that he has on the show. So, I think that educates me in the broader society. In the local society, we read the paper every day, talk to people. We go out for coffee every day and that’s very seldom that we don’t run into somebody or several somebodies, or some days, a lot of somebodies.
Hal: Or happy hour at Cassis. It’s hard to have a conversation with each other because there’s always somebody walking by will stop and say, “Hello.”
Willi: Actually, if I really wanted date night we have to go out of downtown.
Wilma: As I said, you’re sort of the unofficial mayors of downtown, in some ways, I think. You talk about seeing people and talking to people. I think a lot of what we do at the Community Foundation we feel like is about relationship. It’s about relationship with donors and with the nonprofits and that sort of thing. I think with what I hear from the two of you is that, sort of everything you do is about relationship – both to issues and to people and to causes and to the city. Do you think of it that way?
Hal: It’s interesting when you talk about relationships. Molly James who is at the Community Foundation.
Wilma: My colleague.
Hal: Your colleague. We’ve known Molly since she was at the Dali and we’ve been chatting about the community conversation since then. I don’t know how many years ago that was. And one of our friends who is a supporter and has some funds apparently over there suggested that that was just a good way to kind of park a little donation pile of money. And we thought about it a long time, and now were in the situation where we have to take money out of IRAs, required minimum distributions. Willi this year hit a milestone so that next year she will as well. So, all of a sudden, we have some money that we don’t count on for living expenses that we can donate or put into a fund for occasional special donations of kinds and that’s how we got involved with Community Foundation. But it was because of the relationship with Molly, and it’s always been a very pleasant relationship even though it wasn’t particularly profitable for her for a long time. That’s how we got involved, and the more I learn about the Community Foundation and the programs, the more sense it makes to me. I’m one of these people that kind of says, “Well, that would be useful for this organization or this person I’m involved with.”
Hal: Again, relationships, and they should know about it and either to meet Molly or to just give them some of the information, so they can think about it. Recently with a couple boards that I’m on not for profits have been talking to them about the agency reserve fund, the match fund, things that don’t do me any good at all other than the fact that I was just kind of interested in how they work.
Wilma: I promise I didn’t pay how to do a commercial for the Community Foundation.
Hal: It’s an easy way to set things up.
Wilma: And that’s one reason I wanted to talk to you – not because you had such nice things to say about us – but I think a lot of the people we work with are like you, they are very thoughtful about what they want their legacy to be and how they want their giving to be done and in the best way to do it. Do you have thoughts about…If somebody is like you saying, “Wait, I have some money that I’d like to do good with that I don’t need,” sort of what your thought process is when you decide how you’re going to support something or what you’re going to support?
Willi: I think the first thing that we consider is, what do we know about the subject matter? Not so much what we know about the organization, but kind of the way we invest in organizations that we have some rudimentary understanding of what those organizations or those corporations to do. There’s such a big learning curve to figure out why would I want to invest in that kind of business. So, with respect to giving money, it’s the same kind of a thing. We have some basic understanding of what a particular organization does, as well as who it serves, and that it kind of meets our social conscience.
Hal: Yeah, I agree. I think that’s pretty much it. If American Stage, for example, or Jobsite for that matter in a smaller level, didn’t have an education department that was significant, they probably wouldn’t be as interesting.
Hal: They would still be interesting because they are providing entertainment, art which I think is a necessary thing. Somebody the other day quoted something that says, “The earth without art is just eh.” And it’s true.
Willi: It’s true.
Hal: So, it’s doing that. But I also feel that the arts and Creative Clay which is another board I’m on which makes art accessible to disabled people, it provides a voice and a creative outlet for populations that normally wouldn’t have that possibility. And in theater, it’s presenting the type of theater that provides that voice, that teaches, that may make you uncomfortable. I think the last few years, American Stage, Jobsite, for a long time, Freefall have all been doing that. We just saw Judgment at Nuremberg at Stage Works – phenomenal production and really scary, really powerful and totally relevant to what’s going on today. All the way down to the #MeToo Movement, without changing the script by word and it was written in the 50s. It’s that kind of education of the population that attracts us, I think, to those venues, to those kinds of organizations.
Willi: We don’t have children, so we had to figure out what do we want to have happen to whatever is left when we’re gone, and the kinds of organizations that will be getting money, assuming there is any, are arts-related, education-related…
Hal: And three big ones.
Willi: And then several very important in social justice kinds of things. Medicine – no. We believe that, that should be the government’s responsibility more than an individual responsibility.
Willi: And as far as education is concerned, it’s the smaller organizational units as opposed to overly endowed schools.
Hal: But we both went to overly-endowed schools so they’ll get something.
Willi: But we both went to overly-endowed schools with assistance, so we are trying to earmark whatever we do that people who need assistance get it rather than a general fund and certainly not a building fund.
Wilma: And what I hear you saying I think throughout all this too, is that, you know what is meaningful to you and that’s what other people should look for is what is meaningful, not just the write-a-check kind of philanthropy. I don’t think you’re – I know you very closely research everything. You spent a lot of time researching us. (Laughs)
Hal: Much more time researching you than most organizations.
Wilma: But, looking for something that really does meet what’s in your heart, I hear you talk a lot about, I think, opportunity as well. Is that part of what you are looking at – the kinds of opportunities that organizations might present to others?
Willi: I came from a very small town, left it soon as possible, but I came from a very small town and for part of my life was raised by a single mother. So, I know what some of the struggles that people go through are. College was not an option for me. I had the grades for it, but I had no real support at home to say, “Oh you should go to school.” So, I knew that when I started school it was going to be based on my paying for school. And because I came from a small town where college wasn’t an option for me and for the generation that was raising me, there was very little knowledge about scholarships and things. So, it was always going to be “we’re doing it ourselves.” And I know that people are in that situation, that there may be all this money available at various schools. But if you aren’t exposed to that as a youngster, and if your family is not exposed to that – that door’s closed.
Willi: I think it’s important that we open those doors.
Wilma: That’s some of the work that we’re doing at the Community Foundation as well as just letting people know who are first generation whose parents didn’t go to college and there’s still a lot of them out there that there is money available and there are opportunities available but people just don’t know that a lot of the time.
Willi: And they need to be exposed to that when they’re young enough to influence their grades; to get into the schools in the first place.
Wilma: Yes. I mean, we talk about some of the programs that we’re doing, moving them back to middle school even to start talking about financial aid forms and the grades you have to have and that sort of thing, because it’s very true. It’s much harder. You can still do it, but it’s much harder if you get to be 18, 19 or 20, and aren’t prepared.
Hal: Yeah, my folks didn’t go to college either but because we are growing up in New York City, and my Dad was born in Liverpool, from a dirt poor family. My mom a little better off, and sort of started her own business. So, neither of them had a lot of information about that but I ended up in fifth grade starting to go to a private school because the public schools were frankly getting dangerous at the time. Knife fights in the schoolyards and things like that. They wanted to get me out of there. But I was on significant scholarship at private school, and then continued on to college with fellowships and readerships and scholarships and all that kind of stuff. But my dad, what he had he would get back, and my mother worked as a volunteer and, in some cases, ended up as president of various organizations in New York. And again, not national organizations, more local – although in New York, local philanthropic organizations might have a budget of $25,000,000. It’s different world. But she would go down as she said this 50s down to the restaurants in the garment industry where my dad was working and collect money in a can.
Hal: And she says, “Well, I was down there shaking my can. But these guys, because of my dad, would put $20 bills and we’re talking the 50s, it’s like putting $100 in somebody’s Salvation Army bucket.
Hal: So, the two of them were always involved. My father might quote “lend” money to little jewelry store around the corner because they were having a tough time and may or may not ever get it back. But that wasn’t the issue with someone in need someone in the neighborhood. Someone had a relationship with and it was kind of the way I was brought up. And then in private school I went to was, the Ethical Culture Schools in Fieldston. And ethics was the one required class. It was basically a tea group. Group therapy almost. But talking about ethics and what’s going on in the world. So I always had that input, and then went to a liberal arts college, which again, was more a way of learning what the world was and how it became how it is and how to think.
Wilma: And how we all fit in together in that.
Wilma: As you’re telling that story, I’m thinking your dad and your mom probably never would have used the word philanthropists to describe themselves and I think we get hung up on that sometimes. We think about how you have to be a Mellon or a Carnegie to go back a few years or somebody like that. But we can all, in our own way, even with in small ways be philanthropists and that’s one of the messages that we are trying to spread.
Hal: That’s kind of where we are. I mean, we’re better off than they were. But I’m nowhere close to some of the donors at the Community Foundation. We’re talking a few thousand dollars as opposed to millions. There are levels, but I guess it’s always philanthropy, you give what you can.
Willi: Religions tend to require tithing some form or another, came from an area where that may have been required, but most the people couldn’t afford to do it when I was a young child.
Willi: And then, we started moving around so that was never something I was raised with and I think that my donating is more things I’ve learned through Hal and feel like you have to pay things forward rather than to pay back you want to pay it forward.
Hal: As you were saying is, the people we were involved with got us involved with the AIDS-related organizations in San Francisco. There was another organization called Delancey Street that I thought had a fabulous mission. They built their own headquarters with the help of the contractor union by bringing in recently released felons, some were halfway house and they built their own halfway house and huge building down on the waterfront, using these people and help from the union who didn’t go out and picket because they were using nonunion people. It was almost an apprentice program so that that would eventually become part of the union. It was that kind of thing that was newsworthy and different and interesting. They had a Meals on Wheels type of organization. Project Open Hand that we got involved with, it did some deliveries for a while where you would deliver food to individuals who are shut in because they didn’t have the strength to go out. Again, you get involved with the things you see, and the things you deal with on a day-to-day basis just because of relationships again.
Wilma: If someone’s listening to this and you inspire them to say, “Okay, I got a little time. I’ve got a little money. It sounds like this is meaningful for these folks.” What advice would you give them? If somebody had never been involved either civically or philanthropically.
Willi: What are you passionate about? What you want when you wake up in the morning? And there’s a very strong probability that there are other people who were in that boat and they may be people who don’t have the same resources you do.
Willi: So, find out what you’ve got, what your interests are and see what’s going on in the community that matches those interests. There are different ways to get involved – you can donate time, you can donate money. One of the things that I’ve noticed here is that a lot of people donate to CASA, because they figure it’s a way to get rid of clothing and furniture, but CASA also needs money and they also need volunteers. So, look at what you’re doing and see if there’s another step that you can take in an organization. Getting involved on a time basis doesn’t have to be a board. I think that there is an expectation that says, “Oh well, it’s gonna be ongoing.” But I think a lot of organizations have projects; American Stage has the gala in the park.
Hal: We have 100 volunteers for that event.
Willi: A lot of people need to do it. His brother and sister-in-law are ushers at the theater that’s a great way to get involved because, number one to get you involved in the organization, and the payback is you get to see the plays.
Hal: She’s now a docent at the Berkeley Rep so she does some of the discussion of the show, she gets a chance to interview the stars who come out because they get bigger celebrities than we do here, and she’s worked her way up into that organization. The woman who started that program now lives down here. She’s retired, she lives in Longboat Key, but she’s now a subscriber to American Stage because she felt it was the closest thing to Berkeley Rep. So again, these relationships just kind of intertwine and all work out. But volunteers is an interesting thing. I recently met the new volunteer coordinator outreach person for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, and I put her in touch with the person in her position at American Stage because I said there are events and there are needs that overlap, and maybe there needs to be kind of an organization that’s like a trade association of volunteers.
Hal: So that if you enjoy volunteering, if there’s nothing at American Stage this week. Maybe there’s something at the free clinic or Creative Clay or somewhere in town. If all of these outreach people were kind of in contact with each other and apparently there is something in the wind about that right now. From what the woman at Free Clinic told me.
Willi: And again, if you can give time, you can give money, or you can give connections, and relationship, again, I think you can give ideas is something sometimes people don’t think about. We see that with a lot of our philanthropists here who have an idea. I talked to the Gobioffs a while back, and they had an idea…
Hal: The Arts Bridge Fund.
Willi: For the Arts Bridge Fund to try to bring people together to support the arts, and I think they’ve learned a lot about our community thinks about donation and that sort of thing and raise some awareness and some money along that way, but sometimes it’s ideas you need.
Hal: That’s a tough one because prior to their having heard about it, I brought the information back to development director. The advancement director at American Stage and her concern was, that people give to that and still get a piece of it at American Stage. But if it weren’t there, they get all that.
Hal: So, I’ve been trying to explain to people, “No, this is like to make up for what the state didn’t give to these organizations; it’s not to replace what you personally give to these organizations.”
Willi: And they would very clearly say, if you feel compelled to give extra to a specific thing. We certainly would encourage that, too.
Hal: It’s a hard sell. It’s a hard sell to the organizations.
Wilma: So, what else should folks know about getting involved in the community or becoming donors? Or what do you think about? What this has brought you? Maybe that’s a good way to wrap this up. What has your involvement and your philanthropy brought back to you?
Willi: Well, if it starts out with relationships, it brings more back. It’s very circular.
Hal: I agree. There’s a lot of intertwining. Our superpower is connections and relationships. We just talk to everybody; we don’t know any strangers. We make a lot of relationships. And if it’s a retailer, at some point, they can be a help by donating something for silent auction for an event at American Stage or Jobsite or Creative Clay. It’s all relationships and connections helping each other. There was an article in the New Yorker several years ago called Six Degrees of Lois Weissberg. She was the unofficial protocol Chair for the government in Chicago, for the city government.
Willi: Under Daley.
Hal: Yeah, unpaid. And she and her husband both had all of these weird connections that they would do. She brought Isaac Asimov home for dinner one night because she’d seen them in the presentation and she, as a city person, was able to have access to him. And her husband had run into Lenny Bruce and brought him home. So, Lenny Bruce and Isaac Asimov became 1° of separation and never would have without them, and the theory of social psychologists was that, there are people who are spokes and their people who are hubs and the hubs connect the disparate spokes. And I think Willi and I to an extent have been hubs because we’ve introduced people who never would’ve met each other if they hadn’t come to a Christmas open house or a dinner or something at our house and met somebody else. Again, I think it’s just relationships and you need people to bring those disparate people together. Bob Devin Jones, I think is a hub. There is no question about it.
Wilma: Well, it’s been great chatting with you and I will say that I think our community is a better place because you’ve chosen to settle your hub here.
Willi: Thank you.
Wilma: Along with us.
Hal: Thank you.
Wilma: This has been another edition of the Inspired Giving Podcast from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. If you’d like to learn more about what we do to connect people and nonprofits in our community, go to www.cftampabay.org. Thanks for listening.
Wilma Norton joined the Foundation in 2014. She was a journalist at the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) for more than 20 years. Most recently, she was assistant director of public information at St. Petersburg College. Wilma has a BA in journalism and political science from Western Kentucky University and an MBA from Florida International University.