UWRA Members Giving Back
by Joe Tolan, UWRA Board Member and retired United Way President and CEO
Working for United Way becomes a part of our DNA. When it's time to retire, we might turn in our keys, but we don’t turn off our knowledge or passion for the mission of United Way. Fortunately, UWRA provides the space and connectivity to continue to share our talents and experiences in thoughtful and productive ways that strengthen the United Way network.
One of these opportunities came in the Spring of 2017 when Leslie Howard of UWW had received multiple requests for consultative assistance from local United Ways. Through my association with the UWRA Board, Leslie asked if we could help. My wife Terry and I jumped in and volunteered consultative services for United Way Worldwide (UWW), working with staff leadership at the United Way of Greater Toledo, Ohio. The trend line of the local campaign in Toledo was in decline, the organization was in the early stages of a search for a new CEO, and the Acting CEO was open to onsite assistance with emphasis on resource development. Terry had over twenty years of United Way executive experience, and I had recently retired after 30+ years at Metro United Way in Louisville, the last 15 as CEO. With our career-long commitment to the United Way system, we welcomed the opportunity to support the team.
Terry and I worked with Jennifer Ring, Director of the US Network Performance UWW, and her team to better understand their challenges and opportunities to be most helpful. After the initial onsite discovery visit with UWW staff, it was agreed that sessions focused on ensuring that campaign basics were clearly understood and being employed were our priority. Some of the sessions zeroed in on "campaign 101" concepts and practices and an examination of the state of ongoing communications with local Tocqueville donors. We also discovered the need to expand the role of board members and other United Way volunteers in the annual campaign. Ultimately, we recommended the next steps and addressed some of the dynamics of being a multi-county (three) United Way.
One of the trends evident in many local United Ways has been the gradual drift away from ongoing awareness and utilization of proven campaign practices. In some cases, volunteer roles in the conduct of the annual campaign have significantly diminished. We found it related to the additional emphasis on community impact and declining institutional awareness of proven best practices. Many new CEOs are hired without prior United Way system experience, so some tried-and-true best methods have been lost along the way.
UWRA members' collective knowledge, skills, and experiences represent a significant resource that benefits the UW network. Engaging UW alumni as consultants has the net effect of increasing the number of local United Ways that can receive onsite services, while affording former UW professionals with meaningful use of their United Way knowledge and experience. Terry and I encourage local UW executives to avail themselves of this resource, and we encourage fellow United Way professionals to consider participating in such consultative service to the field.