12,154 Love letters: My 33 years as United Way pro

 

If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. –Marc Anthony

For the last 12,154 days I have been directly employed by United Way or one of its subsidiaries. September 30, 2015 was my last day working within United Way network.

June 21, 1982: I arrived in Alexandria at the former United Way of America HQ just a few weeks after graduating from The College of William and Mary. I found this photo of the UWA management training class from that first week on the job. The program recruited 10 recent graduates each year from across the nation, immersing us into two different United Way organizations over 12 months–one placement in fundraising and one placement in community impact. As the 1st generation in my family removed from sharecropping in rural Georgia and Virginia, this was an amazing opportunity.

What an adventure! My career has taken me from Alexandria, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Hampton/Newport News, Lexington and finally to Cincinnati. Over the years, I quickly learned to pay attention to the origin story of each organization which contained the core DNA to the culture many decades later. Was that United Way formed by service providers seeking an efficient fund-raising channel? Or was it formed by people with resources seeking more effective service delivery options? Very different origin stories played out in very different community-based organizations.

What I remember most from this time are the people, both inside the organization and within the community. As a young professional, the vast opportunity for mentorship by corporate titans and community activists alike was incredible. So many life lessons and experiences along the way.

How many 24 year olds work directly with the CEO of a Fortune 100 company? Over the course of my career, I met hundreds of people who had hope restored at a funded agency program. At UWA, I experienced hosting a series of national broadcasts on emerging technology at a time when the threat of the internet was just emerging. In Virginia, we structured a partnership with our healthcare company for 24 hour I&R call center 25 years ago. In Lexington, we outsourced back office functions so we could focus on our community facing work. And at Upic, we formed the first and largest national shared IT services organization dedicated to United Ways.

This all began by taking the spring break of my senior year of college and visiting three nearby United Ways to learn more about the organization and the culture. I cannot express adequate appreciation to the three United Way CEO’s who each personally met with me that week, providing the spark to pursue this as a career. The generosity of their time and their experience to inspire someone to follow in their footsteps was life changing. And as a result, I made it my habit to meet with other young people pursuing United Way as a possible career option.

I recently found my application to the national management training program right after those visits. What I wrote in 1982 still holds true today as I reflect about the ongoing potential for United Way:

“The greatest challenge for the local United Way in the coming decade is to help community volunteers bridge the gap between shrinking state/federal spending and increasing calls for community services… A firm belief in the notion that is is well within the capacity of people to solve their own problems is the foundation for social change within the community… The UW professional must maintain a flexible and innovative spirit to recognize the unique improvement opportunities within the community, motivating others to act within the constraints of apparent resources… The key to the survival of the dream of helping people build a better community falls squarely on the shoulders of community volunteers and UW professionals. “

To the thousands of United Way professionals and volunteers I’ve worked along side over the past 33 years, I thank you for your wisdom, your mentorship, and most of all your leadership by example.

You are changing lives day in and day out. Thank you for changing my life as well. I look forward to supporting your efforts through my new venture, Winsightz.