Foundation News

March 15, 2022

Executive Director Martha Richards announces retirement

Martha Richards, Executive Director

After fourteen successful years with the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, Executive Director Martha Richards will retire from her position on December 31, 2022. Richards joined the foundation in 2008 as its first Executive Director. Through her leadership she demonstrated that a small regional foundation can produce a huge positive impact in Oregon. She directed nearly $110 million in funding to over 500 organizations primarily in education and the arts.

“Martha has seen the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation through tremendous change and catalyzed incredible growth during her tenure,” says President Charles Putney. “During her 14 years leading the foundation, she creatively facilitated and further defined our mission.  She is an expert at making connections, asking tough questions and match-making solutions that benefit the entire ecosystem of arts and education throughout Oregon. The trust she has developed with many of our grantees is truly unique and has been both foundational for our grantees, and for our decision-making and planning. She has genuinely left an invaluable legacy and positioned our work and next leader for future success. I am thrilled for Martha personally that she will have more time for her diverse passions. But the foundation community, and indeed all of Oregon, will miss her work at the Miller Foundation.”

Among other previous professional engagements, Ms. Richards served as the former President of The Collins Group, a consulting firm providing management and fundraising counsel to nonprofit organizations through five Northwest states.  She has also served in a volunteer role with numerous cultural and charitable groups including the Regional Arts and Culture Council, Grantmakers of Oregon and SW Washington, and Northwest Business for Culture and the Arts, among others.  

“I consider serving the Miller Foundation to be the highlight of my career. It has been a huge adventure in learning that I could only accomplish through a team effort. I am indebted to our attentive board and dedicated staff and am deeply grateful to the artists and educators -- some of the brightest minds I know,” says Richards. “The philanthropic field is moving from one in which knowledge and expertise was thought to be held inside foundations to one in which the knowledge and experience that exists in the field is recognized and elevated. With ongoing relationship-building, this shift will help address the challenges facing our communities in education and the arts. Embracing innovative and creative ideas while also investing in and collaborating with passionate leaders will continue to position Oregon as a true leader in these fields of endeavor.”

During her tenure, Richards developed critical partnerships with other foundations and organizations. As a result, the Miller Foundation is now acknowledged among its funding peers as both an able instigator and reliable supporter of community initiatives and partnerships. Anne Kubisch from The Ford Family Foundation says it best:

“Martha has been such a fabulous friend, colleague and mentor to me as I have navigated the world of philanthropy in Oregon. In our many collaborations around education and child development, she consistently thinks strategically about the best use of philanthropic resources. Sometimes we focused on investing in building the core capacity of key organizational leaders like The Children’s Institute. Sometimes we co-invested in a collaborative structure such as Foundations for a Better Oregon. Martha knows that successful philanthropy is about so much more than grantmaking – relationships are the key to making a difference. Plus, she has the best sense of humor of any Executive Director in the industry!”

Richards led a ten-year funder collaborative to support stable financial management by Portland’s largest arts institutions. This project inspired the Foundation’s expansion of innovative multi-year general operating support grants for leading small and mid-sized arts organizations across the state.

“When we arrived in Portland, we didn’t know anyone.  Martha showed us the ropes and was a difference-maker for the Portland Playhouse. She holds deep knowledge of how artists function and the emotional or heart- focused work of making art. And she knows how to run a business. Miller was the first to respond in a meaningful way when the pandemic hit. She’s a visionary of the Portland funding community and is constantly working to make systems better.  She never gave us the answers, but she challenged us, believed in us, and held the highest of expectations” says Brian Weaver, Artistic Director at Portland Playhouse.

Richards was appointed by Governor Brown to the Governor's Council on Educator Advancement (EAC) following her service on the Chalkboard and Foundations for a Better Oregon boards. The EAC is a unique, public private partnership linking the Oregon Department of Education, Teachers Standards and Practices Commission, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and Early Learning Division to elevate and support teacher leadership to improve outcomes for students. For the last six years, she supported building regional professional development networks led by teachers to recruit and retain a diverse workforce to address disparities in the public K-12 schools.

“Martha's critical role in the creation and formation of the EAC can't be understated, says Belle Koskela, Chair of the Educator Advancement Council. “She built bridges between state agencies while advocating for an innovative approach to educational improvement led by practitioners in the field. Through relationships and shared vision, she collaborated across Oregon for improved teacher preparation and retention efforts. She accomplished this as she maintained and modeled a deep respect for practicing educators. While Martha's impact on education systems is just getting started, her personal touch will be missed.”

In 2020, her myriad of achievements was recognized by Portland Monthly’s Light a Fire Awards. This prestigious lifetime achievement award acknowledged her leadership in understanding and solving the problems nonprofits face and identifying the ways an organization can achieve its mission.

The Miller Foundation Board has selected the 360 Group/Murphy Symonds Stowell to assist with the search for a new executive director. A formal job posting and full timeline will follow. Please continue to check the Miller Foundation website and social media accounts for updates. Phone calls and emails about the search are discouraged.