A better United Way

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

DB: Well, society has changed. The problems in our communities are getting worse. Just investing in random programming was not solving those problems. The old longtime United Way model was centered around a society where people worked in the same job for 40 years and then they retired. That is not the case any longer. Our society and the problems within our society are much more complex. The United Way model, which was to go to employers and raise money from their employees, just wasn’t enough anymore. We had to do things differently. We were very transactional in nature, and our relationships were with the corporations, not necessarily the donors or employees. We knew that social problems are all interconnected and addressing one need doesn’t create long-term social change. We needed to change the way we were doing things or we would probably cease to exist as an organization.

We’d done our research and at a board retreat in 2001 we took a vote on whether or not we should move from our old model to developing a model where we could become a community problem solver, and develop relationships with companies and individuals to provide them with year-round engagement strategies through volunteering and advocacy. Out of probably 40 board members at the time, all but one voted to move forward.

DN: Your board has been a huge support throughout this process?

DB: We have a topnotch board filled with visionary and courageous people who care greatly about our community. They have supported the changes we’ve made every step of the way. Two years ago they threw all their influence behind a major gift campaign we launched, the Changing the Odds campaign. Our goal was to raise $12 million by 12-12-12. We crushed that goal as leading philanthropists and corporations in our community stepped up to support this historic work and helped us raise $14.5 million by our deadline. As of today, a year later, the Changing the Odds Campaign has raised $15.3 million. That’s the reason we’ve been able to hire coordinators and add programming within our neighborhood centers so quickly.

We also received a $250,000 appropriation from the State Legislature last year that allowed us to add staffing, a new phone platform and other resources to the 2-1-1 information and referral system we acquired from the Utah Food Bank in 2011.

DN: So people are catching the vision?

DB: We’re preaching a new gospel and it’s so gratifying when you see the light go on in people’s eyes when you realize they get it. It’s just fantastic. I was recently in San Diego where I spent two days coaching their United Way on this new work. They are in the pilot phase where they have selected one neighborhood to implement these changes. When we finished our presentation to their executive committee board, the chair said, “Up until today, I looked at this as just another program. Now I see it’s a complete business model and it’s all about the work.” I was like, “Oh yeah! Exactly!” When we did our major gifts campaign, it was super gratifying to see the light come on in people’s eyes when they realized the greatness of investing in something that is not just putting Band-Aids on the situation, but in something that is going to solve the problems and create long-term solutions that build a stronger community for all of us.

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