SPOTLIGHTING SUCCESS IN THE NETWORK
ACTIVATING 600+ ALWAYS UNITED MEMBERS IN SOUTH CAROLINA
This feature story is an extension of UWRA’s Aging in Place research conducted in 2019, funded by a grant from the Cinda A. Hallman Memorial Fund, which addresses two of the recommendations made by UWRA: 1) Amplify United Way’s commitments to older adults, and 2) Drive knowledge sharing across the United Way network.
Claudia Brooks may refer to her 14 years with United Way of the Midlands (Columbia, SC) as her “encore career,” but to her United Way family, her time with the organization is anything but a repeat performance. Claudia’s initiative, creativity, and passion helped guide United Way of the Midlands in new directions, overcome challenges, and expand its donor base.
RE-ENTERING THE WORKFORCE, REINVIGORATING AN ORGANIZATION
Claudia began donating to United Way back in 1974, through a workplace campaign, and continued to give during her 30-year career in television and media.
“After decades of hearing the heartwarming stories of how my donations changed lives, I decided I wanted to continue to support United Way,” she says. “I realized that retirement wasn’t for me and accepted a position with United Way of the Midlands.”
Claudia held numerous roles during her time with United Way, including VP of Communications and her most recent position as Director of Always United, a group of more than 600 late-career professionals and retirees in Columbia. Claudia’s many achievements during her time with United Way include developing stronger connections with partners in rural areas, establishing the Live United Storytellers group, and increasing donor retention and retiree engagement. In addition to working with talented and enthusiastic volunteers, Claudia says, “the best part has been meeting people who have weathered some of life’s most difficult storms, thanks to the work of United Way.”
In mid-2016, Claudia led the launch of Always United, an affinity group of United Way of the Midlands, to increase donor retention and engagement among retirees. Claudia saw an opportunity to connect and engage an entire population -- if only she could reach them. Faced with the enormous barrier of tracking down contact information for people who had already left the workforce, Claudia’s to-do list was lengthy. “Luckily, I had a core group of determined volunteers who were willing to roll up their sleeves and meet this challenge with me,” she says. Claudia and her team spent more than six months collecting information, holding focus groups, and meeting with other retiree organizations to establish a game plan for their Always United group. Their efforts paid off; by the end 2017, Always United boasted more than 100 members. Only three years later, that number has increased to more than 600.
What’s the secret to their success? In short, it’s designed by and for those in their late careers and retirement, making it a perfect fit for its target audience. The Always United leadership team has been committed to its membership from day one, acknowledging the unique strengths of late-career professionals and designing events suited for retirees.Programs include a Lunch and Learn series, Evenings with an Author, a Mentor Match program with the Young Leaders Society, a Santa for a Senior program, and numerous donation and collection efforts.
LEAVING ROOM TO GROW
As Claudia re-enters retirement (this time for good, we think), she’s confident that Always United will continue to grow. “Always United leaders have a desire
to develop a reputation for supplying active, skills-based volunteers for the community,” she says. “And, to quote a member, ‘We can use our years of experience to help organizations without workplace pressure... meaning our efforts come solely from our hearts, not to advance our careers.’” This unique perspective, supported by the group’s strong leadership, presents opportunities for significant impact.
Over the past two years, Claudia has worked closely with UWRA CEO Amber Kelleher to advocate for other United Ways to consider establishing an Always United affinity program in their communities.
What’s next for Claudia? She’s looking forward to spending time with grandchildren, taking online courses, consulting, and traveling during retirement. And, of course, she’s already completed the first item on her retirement checklist: joining UWRA.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on establishing an affinity group for engaging late-career professionals and retirees in your community.