By Moira Weir
During 18 months at the helm of United Way of Greater Cincinnati, I have learned in new ways that we live in a tremendously generous community.
Whether it be our many neighbors who stepped up to help during COVID or the number of community leaders and dedicated United Way volunteers who helped set our organization on a new strategic direction, I am grateful so many came forward when needed.
We are an evolved United Way, changed from 18 months ago, three years ago, and even a very different United Way from a decade ago. We are current; we value and understand equity and how to apply it; and we are driven by community input that focuses on the economic well-being of all. When I reflect on our journey, I can point to many specific examples where someone in our community stepped forward to help move us in this direction.
Trial by fire
Joining the organization at the start of a pandemic certainly had its challenges, but it provided the opportunity to see just how much United Way is needed in this community and how willing our neighbors are to help during a crisis. Quickly, we collaborated with other funders and raised more than $7 million for community members affected by the pandemic. So many in our community were generous.
We had great leadership during this difficult time. Board Chair Steve Shifman, president and CEO of Michelman, guided us through the pandemic, and P&G Chairman of the Board, President and CEO David Taylor led our successful fundraising campaign, while also generously donating 1.6 million masks and sanitizer to help keep people safe. For both, it was “If not me, then who?”
Next, we made connections with non-traditional partners. We realized quickly people were turning to those they trusted. Faith-based leaders such as Pastor KZ Smith and Rev. Paul Booth Jr. helped us both understand the need and get help to the right people.
These efforts were supported by an army of everyday folks who volunteered to write notes of encouragement to isolated seniors, distribute critical personal protection equipment, buy and build education kits to help local students during a critical learning period and prepare tax returns for regional residents to ensure they received needed, promised relief.
Internal work, too
While responding to crisis externally, we evolved internally, too. Numerous board or committee members helped, not only to streamline our operations, but to enable us to put more resources into the community. We relied on their expertise in accounting, human resources, operations and other areas.
And as David Taylor transitioned out as campaign chair, Steve Johnston, chairman, president and CEO of Cincinnati Financial, stepped up to lead this year’s campaign at what will be a crucial time, as we attempt to keep momentum moving, and address what we know is great COVID-related need in our community. Lastly, we are fortunate to already have lined up next year’s campaign chair, Greg Carmichael, chairman and CEO of Fifth Third Bank.
Finally, under the leadership of Steve Shifman, who eventually passed the baton to new Board Chair Barbara Turner, we brought board members and community leaders together to determine our strategic focus. Everyone rolled up their sleeves and developed a blueprint for a United Way of the future. That blueprint was grounded in changing something that became all too apparent in the pandemic: The systems serving our community – systems that should support families so they thrive – are rife with inequities and failing many of those very families.
What will you see from us?
- An organization that responds to input, feedback and the desires of the community. People closest to the challenges know the needs and the solutions. That knowledge will inform United Way’s actions.
- A United Way that works with a diverse range of partners. We learned during the pandemic not everyone will turn to big social service agencies in times of need. To ensure our help reaches the community, we will broaden our partnerships.
- Multipronged solutions. Community challenges are complex. No one solution fits all and no organization can do it alone.
- A United Way that tackles systems change. We can’t only provide relief for immediate challenges, we must influence root causes so more people thrive in the future.
- A focus on impact over dollars. We likely won’t ever be able to raise enough money to meet every community need, so we will no longer focus on fundraising goals – let’s focus on celebrating when lives are truly changed.
We are confident these changes will be supported by the community because they are a product of the community. We have listened for the past 18 months as our supporters, partners, volunteers, community members, people we serve and other key stakeholders told us what was needed.
I am impressed by so many who stepped forward to offer not only their feedback, but their support. Throughout this journey, volunteers and supporters paved our path. We wouldn’t be here – and we won’t succeed – without you.