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Rich Cowles: A legacy of doing what’s right

Rich Cowles Career Map
Meghan Murphy and Jamie MillardThis career map was printed and framed as a gift to Rich Cowles on behalf of the staff at the Charities Review Council.

With the retirement of Rich Cowles, executive director for thirteen years of the Charities Review Council, the nonprofit sector both celebrates and reflects on the leadership and contributions he made during his tenure.

Having had the opportunity to work with Rich at the Charities Review Council, I was excited to sit down with him and talk about the cornerstones of his career and professional philosophies. While June 28th marked the first day of Rich’s retirement, his impact on our sector and his style of shared-leadership, will leave an undeniable legacy.

The Early Years:

What three adjectives would you use to describe your childhood self?

  • Impressionable
  • Earnest
  • Happy

Any professions you idealized as a child?

  • Center-fielder for the Dodgers
  • Writer

What cliché, high school clique did you most identify with? (e.g. jocks, popular kids, nerds, band geek, etc.)

  • Jock wannabe (favorite sports: baseball and basketball)

What’s the greatest takeaway from your college/secondary-education experiences?

  • Learn for life, not for money
  • Not to be materialistic

The Career Years:

Did you ever face a career crossroads? What were the options and why did you choose the path you chose?

I graduated as a math major and started out working with computers. Often the work felt isolating. After taking a “life and career” workshop, I realized I needed to make a more direct contribution to solving real-life problems. Enjoying writing, I wanted this to be my avenue to more fulfilling work and I started taking on freelance writing gigs to build up my portfolio. I would stay up all night writing (I still had a day job working with computers). In fact, this might have been the only time I relied on coffee. In the end, I was able to build up my portfolio enough to get a job as Director of Community Relations at Opportunity Workshop.

I loved this job. It was the first time I felt alignment in my work with my values. I loved helping to develop key messages to hook an audience around a good cause.

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to maintain a commitment to making a difference and being aligned with my values; three times I’ve taken large pay cuts (between 20-40%). I’ve never regretted it, never looked back. It helped me get closer and closer to ultimate fulfillment. Figuring out how to reach your own alignment takes introspection and knowing your stressors.

Do you have any past embarrassing job titles in your closet?

Survey Rodman…you know, the guy that just holds the stick during a land survey.

Rich Cowles
Charities Review CouncilRich Cowles

Any thoughts on the role of failure in careers?

At the Charities Review Council, we implemented a “Fail Forward” at weekly staff meetings.

This gives staff the opportunity to shine a light on failure and embrace it as an opportunity to learn.

What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t doing what you are now?

If money weren’t an issue, I’d have done something with writing. I always wanted to be a syndicated columnist and write on male family life.

Career Personality:

Best piece of advice you follow?

“To try to do the right thing, the best I can figure out.”

It’s not always obvious what the best thing to do is. Especially in organizational management.

What moment in your career are you most proud of?

Moving the Charities Review Council from watchdog to guide dog.

When are you most productive?

  • Right after working out
  • Early in the morning

What is the biggest threat to your productivity?

Uncertainty in what to do or how to do it.

Most influential books you’ve read in the past 3 years?

  • Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father
  • Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns

The career map above was printed and framed as a gift to Rich Cowles on behalf of the staff at the Charities Review Council. Do you know someone you’d like to surprise with a designed graphic of their career? Let’s get talking!

Originally published at

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 07/03/2012 - 08:50 am.

    Nice write-up for a great guy. Thanks.

  2. Submitted by Howard Salute on 07/03/2012 - 11:36 am.

    Rich Cowles: A legacy of doing what’s right…

    What say you Mary Jo Copeland?

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