New CEO says impact key at Triangle United Way

By Todd Cohen

MORRISVILLE, N.C — When Mack Koonce worked as its chief operating officer, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America shifted the focus of its brand from the mentoring programs it provides to the impact they have “keeping children on the path to educational success and reducing juvenile delinquency.”

Key to that shift was finding ways to measure that impact and help donors and other investors understand it, he says.

United Way of the Greater Triangle faces a similar challenge in trying to shift the focus of its brand from the dollars it raises to the impact those dollars have in addressing urgent community needs, a shift that will require engaging donors and helping them see that impact, says Koonce, who joined United Way last month as CEO.

“That is the bottom line for this business,” he says, “not what we do, but what do we achieve, not how do we spend the money, but what do we accomplish with it.”

A native of Raeford who received an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in business administration from UNC-Chapel Hill, Koonce worked in the corporate world for 30 years in California, New York and Texas before moving to the nonprofit sector and his job at Philadelphia-based Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

After jobs in finance and planning at Texfi Industries and American Airlines, he held sales, marketing and general management jobs at American Express, and then served as executive vice president for sales and marketing at Wyndham Hotels, where he was an equity partner.

When the company went public and was sold in 2002, he joined Big Brothers Big Sisters, commuting to Philadelphia from Chapel Hill, where he and his wife have lived since 2003.

Like United Way Worldwide, Big Brothers Big Sisters is a federation of affiliates, with the national organization providing the overall brand, advocacy, marketing and support for affiliates.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, which includes 350 affiliates, operates with an annual budget of $270 million, including $35 million for the national office.

Koonce says United Way of the Greater Triangle is “uniquely positioned to mobilize resources, both volunteers and philanthropy, to address local communities’ social issues.”

United Way, which kicked off its annual fundraising campaign last month, will be looking at how to make a bigger impact on addressing the priority needs of financial stability, education and health, he says.

United Way, which did not set a goal last year but raised $16.5 million, also did not set a goal this year but aims to raise roughly the the total it raised last year.

“There’s a lot of competition in raising money, so you have to make your case, establish your relevance,” he says. “For this organization, and for nonprofits in general, the idea of measuring your impact and knowing the outcomes of the resources you’re investing is not easy.”

It also will be important to determine how broad or narrow an agenda United Way can take on, as well as the scale of the resources and people it can mobilize, he says.

A critical goal will be to “engage business leaders, community leaders, nonprofit leaders in a vision of what we can do together,” he says.

That will be an ongoing process, as will “convening the different sectors and working collaboratively on these issues,” he says. “There’s an important role that’s about community leadership and is bigger than just the funds you raise and the volunteers who you help mobilize.”

In the first half of 2013, United Way will launch a community-wide effort to develop a vision and new strategic plan to help United Way make a greater impact.

“It’s what donors are demanding of nonprofits, accountability for not just how you spend the money but what do you accomplish,” he says. “It’s market forces that are driving these changes, and I’m going to help accelerate that.”

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