Remarkable leader in philanthropy shares her powerful story

V. Renée Cutting is the chief philanthropy officer for UNICEF USA, where she creates and implements a cohesive, collaborative and unified fundraising program, supporting the world’s most vulnerable children.

Born in Barbados, Renée moved to southern California when she was 12. She eventually settled in New York, where she studied English and American literature at New York University. She went on to receive a master’s in education from Harvard University and began her career as an English instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy.

After encouragement from a graduate school colleague, Renée was introduced to philanthropy when she helped run a nonprofit that benefited students in the Boston area. She then moved back to New York, where she was hired to be the director of major gifts at The Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

With more than 20 years of experience formulating successful development strategies and securing principal gifts from individuals, corporations and foundations, Renée has held leadership roles such as the chief development officer at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. (LDF), chief development officer at Horizons National, director of development at Mount Sinai and director of development at the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention.

In November, Renée was featured by Zonta International in a Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne Foley OAM, chairman of the Zonta International Leadership Development Committee.

Here are some of the top takeaways from their conversation:

How to be successful in philanthropy

“I think it’s the audacity to be bold [and] to have vision. When you’re thinking about being a head of a fundraising department, especially at this pivotal time, it requires that you create the vision to inspire philanthropists to give. And … you need a dynamic team behind you—not just the staff, but more importantly the boards and the supporters, such as Zonta International. It is getting everyone on the same page.”

Breaking the glass ceiling

“It’s important to know that there are not too many Renées in the world—specifically, [people who] are leading fundraising organizations that are women of color. Especially starting out at Sloan Kettering, I have always been the only one and we are now coming to a point where we’re broadening the field, but it is important for us to acknowledge that.”


“I remember talking to my great mentor and saying, ‘I think I can talk to just about anyone in the world.’ And she said, ‘Renée, you can.’ And it’s just having someone like her who can mentor you and, more importantly, see you for who you are and allow you to be authentic.”

“My mentors also are my family and my friends. My mom is the most important resource in my life, spiritually, emotionally and physically. She has poured so much love into me and I just wish, if I could only pour half as much love into my daughter as her. She has been a mentor and my best friend.”

How to achieve gender equality

“The only way we’re going to [close the gender gap] is people like you and all of the members of [Zonta International] leaning into it, using our voices. All of these voices … collectively can send a resounding message that enough is enough.”

Leadership skills

“What I’m finding most important to this role of leading is authenticity, and I think that’s one of my secret powers because I can really just be Renée [which] means being charismatic. But it also means being analytical, asking tough questions, giving direct feedback and speaking truth to power.”

“It’s also about getting executive coaching and I think sometimes we are too proud to ask for help. But I had a phenomenal coach who stepped in when I was struggling with a team that I was managing.”

“It’s important to be concise, to give positive but constructive feedback and to be there and be supportive.”

“It’s important to have a vision [and] be able to articulate that vision. I think vision is not what’s before you, but it is seeing something beyond.”

How to deal with setbacks

“I have a great network of friends so even when I don’t believe in myself, I surround myself with nothing but friends and family, and it’s from them that I get inspiration.”

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Watch Renée’s Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories session:


28 JANUARY 2022