A better United Way

Published: Saturday, Dec. 14 2013 10:00 p.m. MST

CEO Deborah Bayle spearheads a collaborative approach to making communities better through the Salt Lake City chapter of the United Way, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Deborah Bayle sure doesn’t look like a revolutionary. No beatnik hat. No wild-eyed ranting. No raving. In her well-dressed, conservative clothes and her soft-spoken manner, everything about her screams establishment.

And yet, it’s precisely because of her incessant demand for change that United Way of Salt Lake has undergone a radical transformation of enormous proportion over the past decade. The organization that was once perceived as a middleman in the charity-giving universe has become an integral, hands-on leader of social change.

The result is a model that is turning heads all across the national United Way system, casting Utah’s United Way of Salt Lake as a beacon of change and its president and CEO as the architect for that change. These days, Bayle is in high demand as both a national consultant and a local organizer.

Last month, she stopped long enough to be honored as the 2013 Executive of the Year at the Utah Philanthropy Day luncheon hosted by the Utah Nonprofits Association and Utah Society of Fund Raisers — and to sit down for a conversation with the Deseret News about Salt Lake’s cutting-edge United Way.

Deseret News: Thanks so much for talking with us. In a nutshell, could you describe how the United Way of Salt Lake is different today from when you took over as CEO in 1999?

Deborah Bayle: We have changed our organization from primarily one that raised money and distributed it out to worthy organizations to one that is all about community problem solving and social change.

DN: So United Way of Salt Lake has become a leader in the process rather than just dispensing funds?

DB: Correct. The old United Way was one where we brought money in and distributed it out. It was basically distribution that was a mile wide and an inch deep. It was difficult to get results when resources were spread so thinly. Today, our work is very targeted. We’re working in the toughest neighborhoods in our community to change the odds for kids and families and doing whatever it takes to help them be successful. We call it the cradle-to-career continuum, where we work with kids and their parents from the time they’re born and do, as I said, “Whatever it takes,” all the way along to make sure the kids graduate from high school, go on to some sort of post-secondary education and then get a job or a career where they can then be self-sustaining members of the community. This is all summed up in what we call Our Promise: “To change the odds so every child has the same chance to succeed in school and life.”

DN: How did you develop your new approach?

DB: The model that we use is called Collective Impact and it’s explained in detail in an article from 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, written by Mark Kramer and John Kania of FSG. That’s sort of the bible that we use for our work.

DN: And Salt Lake’s United Way has been a pioneer in this new approach?

DB: We started in 2001 on our road to transformation. It was a 10-year process to get us from where we began to where we ended up in 2011 and where we are today. We’re finding that we are so much further ahead in this new work than most other United Ways that we are frequently asked to coach others. Last April we were honored to receive an international award from our trade association, United Way Worldwide, called the Common Good Award for Innovation because of what we’re doing and the training we are providing to other United Ways in transforming from the old traditional model.

DN: So the change requires more than just snapping your fingers?

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