One of the distinguishing features of my United Way experience was the training, teaching, and learning.
We wrote the first government relations handbook for local Boards and staff, taught classes at the National Academy of Volunteerism (NAV), and executed the first UW Capitol Hill Day while I worked at the national office. Our first job was to convince local Boards and CEOs that government relations was an integral part of their mission.
My career has gone full circle. One of my most intriguing experiences at the national office was working on the 1986 Tax Reform Act. Nonprofits wanted a charitable deduction for non-itemizers. In my current role as Executive Vice President for External Affairs at Volunteers of America, I worked with several coalitions to make changes more favorable to charitable giving in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in late 2017.
One of the distinguishing features of my United Way experience was the training, teaching, and learning. I was included in a program designed for staff members of color who were on the CEO track. It taught us how to interview with multiple Board members rather than just one person. We were filmed and critiqued and supported after the class concluded. Even today, I often value colleagues with United Way experience because I find that they understand how to staff Boards and committees, and appreciate the nuances of community leadership. Today at Volunteers of America, our CEO, Mike King, is a former staff member from the United Way of Dallas. Our Senior Vice President of Development, Tom Waters, previously worked at United Way Worldwide.
Being a leader is lonely. Being a Black woman leader can be isolating and disconsolate.
After twelve years at three United Ways, I furthered my career as a Vice President of an urban education think tank at Michigan State University, Executive Director of an international children’s agency (SOS Children’s Villages), and the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.
Throughout my life, I have often been a “first and only” – the first and only African American and/or woman in my class, my position, or my organization. I am the daughter of an Army colonel and a teacher. I was born, attended school, and worked for an international child welfare agency based in Germany. I have lived in thirteen places in my life. Often being the “first and only” brought excruciatingly painful episodes of racism, sexism, and exclusion at work. Being a leader is lonely. Being a Black woman leader can be isolating and disconsolate.
Among my more colorful experiences at United Way, a co-worker was asked to stop his Klan mail from coming to the office. An executive had a Black man crawl under the table and shine his shoes during an executive staff meeting. And there were Board members interested in courting. My life was threatened on Haitian radio after I completed an assignment to stop a Miami agency from blatant political activity in Haiti. While such incendiary behavior is rarely displayed today, our country and the nonprofits we lead still have a complicated journey ahead of us toward equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Even today, I often value colleagues with United Way experience because I find that they understand how to staff Boards and committees, and appreciate the nuances of community leadership.
I am proud of my role in several United Way projects. In Indianapolis, we established the first battered women shelter that was partially funded by a new divorce filing fee. I worked in Miami at the height of the crack epidemic. The devastation to families was horrific. We worked with family court judges to pass legislation that would keep children from languishing in foster care and speed up family reunification or adoption.
Along my journey, I built a strong group of friends and advisors. I am still close friends with many of the people I met along my United Way path. Balance and perspective were achieved through active roles in local and professional organizations and world travel. I was an officer of the founding National Board of the Coalition of 100 Black Women and Chapter President in Indianapolis and later inWashington D.C. While at United Way of America, I was on the Board of Women in Government Relations. I have served on several nonprofit Boards. The MetroStage theater Board is currently my most exciting. My travels have taken me to several countries including Morocco, New Zealand, and Iceland. I will have visited all seven continents after my 2023 trip to Antarctica.
By the way, I live across the street from the UWW headquarters.