By Martha Cecilia Ovadia, Senior Program Associate, Equity & Communications

Who are the people that make up the Funders’ Network? Know Your Network is an occasional Q&A series featuring our members and PLACES alumni. This month, we chat informally with Maranda Witherspoon, a 2015 PLACES alum, formerly of Missouri Health Foundation, now the CEO of MWR Coaching and Consulting.

Interested in becoming a PLACES Fellow? Applications for the 2019 Fellowship are due Nov. 1. Learn more here.

1. You are an alum of the 2015 PLACES class. As a fellow, what was your favorite site visit or experience in your year? What was the most challenging experience?

My favorite site visit was Fresno, California.  Fresno challenged my thinking and helped shape my philosophy on “thoughtful” community engagement and how I can personally become more intentional about using my voice to be an advocate for change.

The most challenging visit for me was St. Louis.  As a St. Louis native, it was difficult to step into the space open to learning while remaining objective throughout the site visit.

2. We have a challenge for you: If you had to describe 2018 in seven words, what would they be?

“Man, what a year to be alive!”

3. Let me ask you something — if you could spend the day with an one person, dead or alive,  and have a lunch and learn with them, who would it be?

Jay Z hands down! He is the best rapper alive – lets debate if you disagree! But seriously, his journey is amazing and inspires me. He went from illegal activity in his youth to succeeding in the music industry as a rapper later in life (than the average artist). He has so many successful businesses and he has even visited the White House! I admire how he gives back financially to support causes that elevate people who often feel powerless. I am sure he has tips to share with me on achieving success while remaining grounded.

4. You moved from the philanthropic sector into consulting and coaching nonprofits and foundations —how has your transition been and what would you say to anyone else who is thinking of moving into the consulting side of philanthropy?

My transition from philanthropy overall has been smooth and worthwhile.  I have been afforded the opportunity to leverage my philanthropic relationships to further advance my mission of  transforming lives, engaging communities, and advancing equity by working with and in communities least served.  I am grateful to be in position to work on projects that align with my passion and core values.

My advice is to figure out what you are passionate about and run with it! Because we all have experience with moving money, as a consultant you can create opportunities to further educate foundation staff on various ways to support community gaps and/or opportunities while being hands on with the work and communities – priceless!

5. We have been asking almost everyone we interview about self care. What is something you do as a practice of self-care that helps you to be a better consultant and facilitator?

As a practice of self-care I fellowship with family and friends. I also workout and prioritize travelthe non-work kind!  When I am not working these are the things that take up my time (and funds). And I regret nothing! I encourage people to identify 1-3 things they enjoy doing and do them!

6. What is something you think would surprise people about you?

I want to convince my husband we should buy a tiny home!  Please note I have closets full of clothes, shoes, etc. and I am not always good at downsizing…

But tiny house here we come!

St. Louis City Museum. Photo Credit:

7. Tell me about your own hometown—what makes it special? Is there a special business or shop you would say is a “can’t miss”?

Let’s see, St. Louis, Missouri – the most northern southern city and state!  St. Louis is special to me because it is home and plentiful of family and friends that I care about.  I am asked all the time, “Why am I still here?”  And my response is always, “This is home and I can’t physically move and give my all to another city and not put that same energy into home!”

If you come to St. Louis, you have to try Imos Pizza – the square beyond compare! I recommend you have a slice of gooey butter cake. It is absolutely delicious. Oh! I also recommend you visit the City Museum – there is nothing like it anywhere else.


About the Author

Martha Cecilia Ovadia is TFN’s senior program associate for equity and communications. Contact her at