Centraide’s new CEO wants to focus on the local after turbulent years | Arkansas Business News

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) – Angela Williams’ first year as president and CEO of United Way Worldwide has been marked by challenges: rising inflation, war in Ukraine leading to increased demand for charitable services and the need to restore public confidence in its organization. .

As the first black leader of United Way Worldwide, the former Air Force lawyer and former Easterseals executive feels poised to lead the organization, once known for its successful fundraising workplace, in its next era.

“Being in situations in my life where I was the first or the only black woman or person and breaking through what I call not just glass ceilings but concrete ceilings and breaking through” prepared her. to deliver on that promise of fairer services, Williams said.

She plans to bring this unique American institution’s focus back to communities, listening to individuals to find solutions to their problems with the help of United Way’s considerable resources. In 2020, the organization gave more than $168 million in grants.

Williams kept a low-key public profile in her first year, opting for a tour of listening to United Way affiliates around the world and re-examining the organization’s commitments and priorities.

“My vision for United Way Worldwide is to create equitable solutions in communities,” Williams said, adding that people facing issues should have a say in solving them.

United Way’s national 211 hotline connecting people to services has seen an increase in inquiries over the past two months as people need help accessing food, paying utility bills or rent and find accommodation, she said.

“I feel this real sense of urgency,” Williams told The Associated Press in an interview. “Whether it’s government, the not-for-profit sector, philanthropy, foundations, individuals, we need to come together because the need is so dire.”

Williams took over United Way Worldwide after three former employees accused him of condoning a culture of sexism and misconduct and taking revenge on them for speaking out.

An outside investigation commissioned by the organization found in February 2021 that there was no evidence of “harassment, discrimination or actionable retaliation”. The three women who filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission told The Chronicle of Philanthropy at the time that the law firm investigating the case had not contacted them. The organization’s CEO, Brian Gallagher, resigned shortly thereafter.

During World War II, local United Ways solidified their grip on workplace giving, allowing employees to automatically donate a portion of their salary to the organization. United Way would then reallocate the pooled funds to local nonprofit human service organizations like the YMCA or the Salvation Army.

The model initially served a number of constituencies. He consolidated charitable requests for corporations and created a new group of middle-class donors who felt positive about giving to organizations that supported others where they lived.

But beginning in the 1970s, several forces challenged workplace donations and United Way’s dominance as a distributor of large amounts of funding. The nature of work began to change, with the decline of large manufacturing employers and a shift to service work. This decline was compounded by the growth of social movements for civil rights, women’s rights and environmental protection, for example, creating new communities with which donors identified and wanted to support.

“From that point on, United Way struggled to get as much money and stay relevant as this kind of centralized, trusted entity between charitable donors and recipients,” said Emily Barman, professor of sociology at Loyola University Chicago, which wrote a book about the organization.

To adapt, local United Ways, which pay dues to United Way Worldwide but are incorporated as separate nonprofits, have sought to reduce overhead and many have opted to fund fewer partners. keys instead of giving smaller amounts to more non-profit organizations.

Laurie Paarlberg, who studies community foundations at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, said affiliates are also looking to governments and foundations for funding while others are trying to establish endowments, solicit larger donations from long-term donors, and create donor circles around identity clusters. .

“Centraide has now been rocked by a whole storm of connection events that have influenced their role in their community, their revenue generation and ultimately their perceived legitimacy,” Paarlberg said.

The maelstrom Williams has stepped into also includes a major capital outlay initiated under his predecessor as part of a partnership with Salesforce to create a software product, Philanthropy Cloud. United Way Worldwide tax returns show she paid more than $40 million between 2017 and 2020 to the company and a related contractor.

The software, which United Way Worldwide had the exclusive right to resell, competes with other programs that allow employees to donate their salary to the charity of their choice (not just United Way) and find volunteer opportunities.

When asked if she thought the investment was worth the cost, Williams said it was a good start, but the technology was a means to an end, not a solution in itself.

“My team and I are reassessing a number of investments as part of a broader effort to right the ship and ensure United Way Worldwide is sustainable and impactful for years to come,” Williams said.

Another change Williams made was the hiring of a new management team which she called one of the most diverse in the industry and an important part of the organization’s focus on fairness. . She has also convened an advisory council of local affiliate leaders, intended to give them a direct line to her leadership team.

Despite its recent troubles, United Ways retains the trust of many businesses and local governments, Williams said. When Congress appropriated emergency funds for rental assistance to localities during the pandemic, mayors often turned to the local branch, Williams said.

“They called United Way because they knew we had the fundraising mechanism. They knew we had call centers.

“So as a trusted advisor and partner, it’s a unique role that we play,” she said.

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