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Greenville Business Magazine

The Power of Change

Sep 05, 2019 11:42PM ● By Leigh Savage
Diana Watson is experiencing a year of profound change, and she’s approaching it with the same work ethic and positive attitude that she brought to her successful career as a broadcaster. 

After 27 years in journalism, 23 years in the Greenville area and 15 years at FOX Carolina, Watson left the anchor desk in June to start a new career as chief philanthropy officer for YMCA of Greenville. At the same time, her twins were graduating from high school and preparing to head off to college, and she and her husband Michael White moved as they shift to the empty-nest phase.

“I’ve basically changed everything this year,” she says. “Sometimes in life you can go along and keep doing the same things because that’s what you’ve always done, or you can stop and think, what if I took a risk I never thought about taking before? What’s the worst thing that could happen if I did?” 

Watson sat down with Greenville Business Magazine to discuss her career trajectory, her priorities in her new role and the importance of escaping your comfort zone.
“Sometimes you learn more about yourself by doing that,” she says. “Sometimes you challenge yourself, and it allows people to see you in a different way, too.” 

How did you get your start in journalism?
My first TV job was in Casper, Wyo. I was finishing up at University of Maryland, and started applying for jobs all over the country. This was well before the technology we have now, so we had to make VHS tapes and Beta tapes and send them. The first call I got was from the CBS station in Casper. I was 21 years old, and I went out there, and there were literally antelope running down Main Street. It was different! I was the evening anchor, but we did everything: shot video, produced, edited. 

What brought you to South Carolina? 
My mom is from South Carolina, so I have family here. When Michael got a job in Florence and Myrtle Beach, I started looking at jobs and got one at the CBS station in Columbia. I went to the news director and said, I think you need more women on the news, and I have anchoring experience. She put me up there, and I was the first woman main anchor they ever had. 

I always tell people, do everything you can, work hard, and show that you are willing to go the extra mile and learn something new. That really worked out well for me, to take that risk and ask. 

And then you landed in the Upstate in 1996.
I got a job at WSPA reporting, and it ended up leading to eight years with the station, reporting, anchoring the weekend morning show that I produced myself. I ended up doing the weekend evening show. We had gotten married and in 2000 had the twins, and I wanted to do more beyond just weekends. I noticed FOX Carolina didn’t have a female anchor at the time, so I called the news director, met with him, and they hired me. That was 15 years ago. 

Did you ever consider making a move to a bigger market? 
Back in college, my dream was to go to Washington, D.C. But once we got to Greenville….my husband and I look at each other all the time and say how fortunate we are that our jobs brought us here. I’m so happy that this is where my kids grew up. 

What prompted the move to the nonprofit sector? 
Anchoring at FOX, I had the opportunity to go out and report almost every day. I love getting the chance to be out in the community. Several years ago, I did a story about homelessness in Greenville. I met a man who had a small ministry in town, giving food and encouragement to people on the street. At one point, we were at Triune Mercy Center, and I saw downtown Greenville all lit up. I thought, you have people who are suffering within blocks of all of that prosperity. That’s when I decided to get more involved in the community, and use the platform I had, being on the news, to do good in the community. 

Last year, you chaired the annual campaign for the United Way of Greenville while anchoring at FOX and helped raise $18.2 million. Did that influence your decision? 
It was a big job, and my kids were seniors, and I thought, it’s too much. But then I thought it might be happening for a reason. I made the goal to visit every United Way partner agency, and there are 69 of them. I met the people impacted by the programs, I met the employees, and it was a huge learning experience. It led me to thinking about the next chapter. I reached out to people in the community who could give me good advice, and it was a conversation with Velda Hughes that changed everything. She knew about the chief philanthropy officer position and thought it might be a great fit, and everything came together exactly how I dreamed it would. 

What are your priorities in your new role?
I’m going out and talking to people about programs, raising money for some of the great work that goes on and benefits thousands of people each year. A main priority is sharing stories of the Y. When people know the work that is happening and benefiting their neighbors, more people want to support the Y programs. I’ll be a big part of the annual campaign in the spring that supports scholarships for people who want to take part in programs, because we don’t want finances to be the reason people don’t take part. 

How can the business community get more involved with the YMCA? 
There are partnerships with the capital campaign that helps expand locations. We also work with businesses on wellness programs, because if you have a healthy workforce, you have better employees. And we’re always looking for mentors. Business leaders and employees can come in and volunteer, and really give something back to the next generation. You never know if that kid on the soccer field is the next CEO. It’s helping someone else be the best they can be - what’s better than that? 

What would you like people to know about the Y that they might not be aware of?
People are familiar with the Y, but might not be aware of certain programs like Youth in Government, or programs for young adults with Downs syndrome, or programs that help young children with autism, or seniors recovering for Parkinson’s. They might not be familiar with Teen Achievers, that finds kids who could be at risk and puts them on a path to success. These programs can make such a difference in people’s lives.

Our motto at the Y is For All. You can walk in and see this cross-section of the community: people who are struggling, people who are hugely successful. They are all in the same place trying to make their lives better, and I love that.