This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of 425 Business.
Heather Tuininga knew from a young age that working to create a greater good was something she enjoyed doing.
“It was modeled by my parents in their public service roles, their participation on nonprofit boards, and their willingness to help anyone who needed it,” Tuininga said. “The inclination led me to think I might run for office, and so I did all of my education focused on creating good public policy — thinking that working in government was the best route to help the most people.”
Tuininga did spend several years in government, including a five-year stint as a fiscal analyst for the state House of Representatives. In 2004, Tuininga left Olympia to work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and it’s been all philanthropy from there. Today, the Seattle-born, Port Angeles-raised Issaquah resident is principal at 10|10 Strategies, where she assists clients in building fulfilling, impactful, and long-lasting philanthropic plans.
We caught up with Tuininga to talk about her career and why working in government and philanthropy may not be as dissimilar as one might think.
Your career follows a theme of helping others. Your position in the state House doesn’t seem to fit that philanthropic mold …
Most of the (government) roles were budget-related, like my last post as a fiscal analyst for the House Appropriations Committee. I loved the numbers, the challenge of earning the respect of both parties as nonpartisan staff, and helping steward the taxpayers’ dollars wisely.
(But) toward the end of that time, I felt like government wasn’t making as much difference in people’s lives as I wanted to, and through much soul-searching, I decided to shift my career to philanthropy and have never looked back.
What was next for you, then?
The Gates Foundation called me in the fall of 2003. They had created a position that suited my experience, and I started there in January 2004. I held two roles: special assistant to Bill Gates Sr., and program officer for special projects. I loved working directly for Bill Sr. He is an incredible man, full of humility and graciousness, and we traveled the country and the world together. His role was to be an ambassador for the Gates Foundation’s work, and my role was to make him as successful at that as possible. That ran the gamut from being in meetings together with former President Jimmy Carter or the president of Zambia, serving as an internal and external liaison for him, and making sure I always remembered which floor we parked on wherever we went. As a program officer, I analyzed funding requests for all the things that fell outside of the Foundation’s focus areas — we called those “special projects” — and I got to interact with Bill and Melinda a bit while working on those family-interest grants.
I left after three and a half years because I was feeling called to help individual families get more strategic and intentional about their giving.
You’ve worked some miscellaneous positions and held some board posts, too. Can you tell us a little about some of them?
I currently have the honor of serving on the board of African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM). They train leaders and reconcile communities through peace-building work in eight countries in East Africa. I have a huge heart for the country and people of Uganda, and I think ALARM’s is the most important work being done on the ground there and elsewhere to create a more peaceful Africa led by people of integrity. It’s going to take a long time, but ALARM is leading the way there.
I also serve on the Generosity Council of the National Christian Foundation affiliate in Seattle. I’ve seen the power of giving transform my own life and many of the families I’ve worked with, and I know the joy that generosity can bring. So I love helping others find that joy by making an impact with their giving, and that is what NCF is all about.
What can you tell us about your current role with 10|10 Strategies?
Studies show that generous people have more joy. I have found that to be true in general, but even more so when people know their giving is making an impact. As principal of 10|10 Strategies, I get to help families, individuals, foundations, and companies figure out what they’re passionate about and then make an impact in those areas. That results in joy for the givers, and often a bigger impact on the world.
I love seeing the light and excitement in my clients’ eyes when they move from the unknown impacts of the “random charity” they’ve been doing, to moving the needle in areas they care about through “strategic philanthropy.” This often results in a desire to get their family or circle of influence involved in their giving, because the joy is contagious, and I love designing effective strategies for that as well.
Incidentally, this also means helping people figure out what and how to say “no” to causes they’re not passionate about, and that is a huge relief for many of the people I’ve worked with. I feel very fortunate to help at both ends of the giving spectrum — bringing more joy to givers and more good to our communities and the world.
What about helping others convinced you to make a career of it?
I’ve always had a desire to affect the “greater good.” When I went through all of the soul-searching as I was leaving government, I finally found words to describe what I have been called to from an early age. The words are in 2 Timothy 2:21, and they talk about being an instrument for noble purposes. I knew that was it, and I get the joy of doing that every day.
In addition, my own giving and work has taken me to the poorest of the poor, in the slums of India and the bush of Uganda, and I find beauty in the way they love and care for one another. Being with them changes me. Every time I go to Uganda, I grow, I change, and I want more of what they have and less of what I have. In the world’s eyes, they have nothing and we have everything, but they actually have much to give and we can learn a lot by being together.
Why do you believe others should get involved and help out? And how can people get involved initially?
There are two reasons to give of ourselves: to make the world a better place, and to have joy. The second might seem selfish, but it is a fantastic byproduct of doing the first thing well. I have found that joy quite addicting in my own life. There is no such thing as an unhappy generous person.
So, if you want more joy in life, be generous with yourself and your stuff. And if you don’t know the best places to do that, or where you can affect the most good, let’s meet for coffee and figure it out together.
What else should our readers know about you and your career?
Although it may seem like the roles I’ve held along the way in government or philanthropy have been dissimilar, the thread that ties them together is good stewardship. I have been entrusted with much ($4 billion of the state budget was under my purview, and I dealt with a $240 million grant portfolio at the Gates Foundation, for example), and that requires great stewardship. I love the challenge of being a good steward in all things and an instrument for noble purposes wherever I am.
You can read more about Tuininga’s thoughts on giving in the recently released book The Eternity Portfolio, Illuminated: A Practical Guide to Investing Your Money for Ultimate Results. To find out more, visit eternityportfolio.com.