Get to Know Kari Goetz

United Way Suncoast welcomes the new Chief Advancement Officer, Kari Goetz and sat down with her to learn a bit more about her diverse background, her plans for United Way Suncoast and how improvising figures prominently in her leadership style.


What was your path to United Way Suncoast?

In some ways, this was a totally unexpected shift in my professional journey and in other ways, it was the natural progression of a long career with United Way always playing a large role.

My first job in Tampa, back in 2002, was the Director of Marketing at the (then) Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. My CEO was Kim Scheeler, who had recently come from (then) United Way Hillsborough. His leadership and approach is very “United Way” and our culture was one of working towards a greater good and putting our members’ needs first.

Over the last two decades I have had the good fortune to work for strong leaders and visionaries in Tampa Bay. From Judy Lisi at the Straz Center to Joe Lopano at Tampa International Airport, I have had the chance to learn from incredible people who were not afraid to take chances if it benefitted the community. While at TPA, I created the “5K on the Runway” to boost our United Way campaign. We saw a 145% increase in our overall donation that year and TPA remains one of the “Most Generous Workplaces” in the United Way Suncoast network.

Coming to United Way Suncoast is a culmination of the business development, relationship management and leadership that I have developed in my career in Tampa Bay. To be able to work for Jessica Muroff and beside colleagues like Bemetra Simmons, Emery Ivery, Bronwyn Beightol and Jim Gillen is an absolute dream come true. This is the most innovative, talented and dynamic group of executives leading any nonprofit in the region and I am beyond honored to be a part of it.


What can we expect from Resource Development in the coming months and beyond?

Transparency! We want to be able to demystify the donor journey and make it easier to become involved in United Way Suncoast. Our donors will be able to see how gifts are allocated and the transformation those gifts make. We’re listening to our corporate donors, to our Tocqueville Society, Young Leaders and Women United members and we’re finding innovative ways to enhance our communications, expand our offerings and provide more dynamic ways to work together to make the Suncoast region a better place for everyone. We want our relationships to be collaborative. Giving is a personal experience and we want to honor that by providing meaningful information for our donors. Whether that’s a tour of one of our Reading Rooms or Resource Centers, to becoming a Reading All-Star volunteer, hearing from our residents or seeing the data results of one of our many programs, we need to match our resources to our donors for a more holistic experience.

You have a unique background, care to share?

I had a different kind of childhood – 100% of my own doing! Against my parent’s wishes, I became very involved in the film and television industry and spent a large part of my childhood in front of a camera doing commercials and television shows. That carried through to college when I was cast in a television show that filmed in Orlando. I filmed four days a week and went to school at the University of Florida, three days a week. It was amazing! It taught me a lot about time management and personal responsibility. I had two apartments to maintain and manage and I was one of the few people I knew (this was the early 90’s) with a cell phone. I used to have very awkward conversations with my professors explaining that I wasn’t a drug dealer or an undercover cop – I had a cell phone because the production company would call me to tell me about changes in our filming schedules!

After graduation I moved to LA, where, among other things, I was fortunate enough to be one of the founders of The Second City Hollywood. I truly believe that what I learned being a comedy improviser, teacher and director, put me on the leadership path I’m on today.


How does improv inform your leadership?

I use the rules and philosophies of improvisation every day. People often think, “Oh you can’t practice improvisation. It’s improvisation, you just do it!” That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Studying, practicing, and performing improvisation (both musically and theatrically) means being an expert at the foundational aspects of communication. Whether that is a deep understanding of music theory or human interaction – you learn to improvise behaviors, themes and “riffs.” Nothing prepares you for the unexpected like improvisation. It is a wonderful tool for innovation, exploration and conflict resolution. The improvisation that I believe in says that the only way to keep the action going is to say, “Yes! And…” You agree to what is in front of you and then build off the ideas and energy. That’s how great things happen. I’ve taught improvisation in two MBA programs (USF and Wayne State) and it’s one of my favorite “side-hustles.” I always say when I retire, I’m going to complete my PhD on the topic and write a book.

How has the pandemic changed your approach to your new role?

I hate that I haven’t been able to go out and meet people! To host round tables and receptions and events. I am wracked with the guilt of not being able to personally meet our donors and the responsibility to keep everyone safe during this time. At this point, I think we all have to accept this is our normal for now. So please, if you receive a Zoom invite from me, please accept. I’m really looking forward to meeting you!

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