Greensboro United Way targets poverty

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In Greensboro, 20 percent of adults and 25 percent of children live in poverty.

To address the challenges they face, which typically compound one another and are rooted in interconnected problems, United Way of Greater Greensboro this fall will begin working with local nonprofits, public schools, government agencies and other partners to develop a collaborative effort that next year will begin to offer a “continuum of services” on a pilot basis to individuals and families in need.

“People who live in poverty don’t have one issue,” says Michelle Gethers-Clark, president and CEO of United Way. “It’s generally speaking a host of challenges and adversities that need to be addressed.”

The new poverty initiative, and the partnerships and community support it will count on, underscore the message that United Way aims to deliver during its annual fundraising campaign that kicks off September 25 at Festival Park.

While the campaign will not set a goal in a repeat of last year’s approach, United Way aims to raise more than the $11 million it raised last year, when it exceeded the previous year’s total by $800,000 and posted its first year-over-year increase in five years.

United Way also aims in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2015, to invest more in the community than the $9 million it is investing this fiscal year, Gethers-Clark says.

“The need is growing in the community,” she says. “If we really want to make a meaningful difference, we have to give agencies at least the same money or more money year over year.”

Chaired by Jason Bohrer, principal at Newbold Advisers, the campaign will continue strategies it used last year.

Those include visits by Gethers-Clark to speak to employees and executives of corporations and other organizations holding workplace drives; connecting more personally with individual donors; tailoring volunteer programs for companies geared to their corporate social responsibility priorities; and providing opportunities for community service, professional development and networking for women, African Americans and young leaders who make larger gifts.

United Way has developed customized programs for 10 to 12 companies, including Syngenta, where a new women’s leadership initiative has enlisted 75 to 100 women who each volunteer for United Way and want to learn more about philanthropy and how to contribute more of their time and money.

In an effort chaired by Sue Cole, managing partner at SAGE Leadership and Strategy, United Way aims to increase by 10 percent the number of “Tocqueville” donors, or those who give $10,000 or more each, from the 130 who gave a total of $1.1 million last year, Gethers-Clark says.

United Way has relationships with 16,000 donors and volunteers, helps change the lives of 101,000 people a year and, because its 29 partner agencies can “leverage” the United Way dollars they receive to secure support from other sources, has a net impact on the community of over $15 million a year, Gethers-Clark says.

By investing in strategies that focus on collaborative solutions to urgent community problems, she says, United Way provides a “helping hand and not a handout” that makes a difference.

Greensboro United Way regroups in ‘building year’

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — For each of the past four years, United Way of Greater Greensboro fell short of the goal for its annual fundraising campaign.

This year, United Way is regrouping: Rather then set a goal for the annual campaign, it will be working to raise awareness in the community about the impact of the programs in which it invests at 29 partner health and human services agencies.

And it will be working to connect in a more personal way with donors, and provide better customer service for companies that run United Way drives in the workplace.

“We are in a building year,” says Michelle Gethers-Clark, a former executive at American Express who was named United Way president and CEO in June after serving as interim president in the wake of the resignation of Keith Barsuhn in January.

Chaired by Pete Callahan, regional vice president for commercial banking for Wells Fargo in Greensboro, the campaign will kick off September 11 with an open house at United Way’s office at 1500 Yanceyville St., to give the community a chance to meet the United Way staff, Gethers-Clark says.

“It is creating more awareness around our work,” she says. “We’ve been in the community for 91 years. United Way Worldwide has been in existence for 126 years. You potentially forget to communicate. We were almost absent in the minds and hearts and vision of people in Greensboro.”

The community has a lot of misperceptions about United Way, she says.

“People still view us as a pass-through organization,” she says. “They don’t know we’re working on outcomes, not just inputs, that we have moved into very specific areas where we’re trying to elevate the potential, trying to reduce hopelessness, and we have not done a very good job telling our story.”

While the annual campaign did not hit its goal last year, for example, United Way maintained its level of investment at more than 80 percent of the programs it supports at its partner agencies.

Agencies that met goals set in partnership with United Way to measure improvement in the lives of the people they serve received the same level of funding as the previous year, while agencies that fell short of their goals received less.

“You try to reward them for really good performance,” Gethers-Clark says. “We evaluate the direct impact on people served, the benefit the recipients derive that allows them to move out of situations,” such as the number of women who are victims of domestic violence and are able to “move out of that crisis and become a part of society.”

To help tell the story of the impact its partner agencies have on the community and the role it plays, she says, United Way will be using a range of strategies, including local media, the web, YouTube videos, written materials and individual stories about the people it serves, its donors and its partner agencies.

Last spring, for example, United Way provided pens, paper and note cards at a conference room at Syngenta, where nearly 100 employees wrote poems about inspiring experiences or thoughts.

United Way, in turn, gave those poems to Hospice & Palliative CareCenter, which distributed them to doctors and nurses who gave them to patients.

United Way also is working to reduce the time its 26 staff members spend on back-office duties so they can spend more time visiting employees at companies holding workplace campaigns.

“Everyone is part of the campaign,” Gethers-Clark says. “And they are well aware they will be out of the building.”

United Way also will be spending time with each of its 130 donors who give $10,000 or more, known as Tocqueville donors, to ensure they are “more aware of the work we’re doing,” Gethers-Clark says.

Starting in September, United Way will begin a series of eight to 10 small group “roundtables” with donors at that level.

And United Way is working to better serve corporations.

It will be functioning a volunteer broker, for example, for companies such as Replacements Ltd. and Carolina Bank that are looking for volunteer opportunities for groups of employees.

And it will be customizing pledge cards based on the needs of the corporate partners that hold workplace campaigns.

That could include adding the company’s own brand on the cards, or personalizing the cards that individual employees receive.

“‘Easy’ has become our mantra,” Gethers-Clark says.

“This community is very generous,” she says. “At the end of the day, people want to give philanthropically and they want to give back. We make it easy to implement and work with United Way.”

Barsuhn quits as CEO of Greensboro United Way

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Keith Barsuhn has resigned as president and CEO of United Way of Greater Greensboro, effective Jan. 31, and Michelle Gethers-Clark, a former American Express executive who the United Way board of directors hired in October as a consultant on an interim basis, has been named interim CEO and president.

Barsuhn, who has served as CEO since July 1, 2008, “told us he wants to pursue other things,” says Sue Cole, chair of United Way’s board and managing partner at Sage Leadership & Strategy.

Barsuhn says he “came here to rebuild this United Way and give it a new direction, and I’ve done that.”

He says he has “some really good opportunities I’m pursuing that I’m expecting to be imminent.”

John Cross, a former chair of United Way’s board and a lawyer at Brooks Pierce, will chair the search for a new CEO.

“We will take our time to find the right person,” Cole says.

Gethers-Clark, who is president of The Center for Service and Leadership and former senior vice president and general manager of card operations at American Express, has agreed to serve as interim president and CEO until a successor is found, Cole says.

Cole said at the time Gethers-Clark was hired as a consultant that changes needed to be made in the organization as a result of a new long-term strategy that involved shifting United Way’s focus to collaborative efforts to help boost academic performance and grade advancement for children, improve health literacy, and strengthen financial stability for individuals and families.

Since then, Cole says, Gethers-Clark has focused on processes inside United Way, while Barsuhn has focused on United Way’s fundraising.

“The best way to accomplish things is to divide and conquer,” Cole says. “We asked Michelle to focus on the people within the organization and the processes within the organization, and making sure we were being efficient and effective with everything we do.”

United Way’s annual fundraising campaign, which raised $10.3 million a year ago and set a goal of $11 million for the campaign that began last fall, is “tracking” last year’s effort, Cole says.

“I’m very optimistic we will meet it,” she says.

The position of vice president for resource development, formerly vice president for donor relations, has been open since last fall, she says.

Emphasizing she believes in “continuous improvement,” Cole says the biggest challenges facing United Way are to carry out its its collaborative community impact strategy, particularly by matching mentors with people they mentor, and training organizations that provide the mentoring; taking care of its volunteers, including leaders and board members; and develop[ing staff and making sure “they have the resources they need to do the jobs that need to be done in the community.”

Gethers-Clark’s focus has been on “processes,” Cole says.

That has included reviewing the process for hiring people and getting them in their jobs; for receiving contributions; for making board meetings and planning more efficient; and for the way staff members work.

Event planning, for example, has been assigned to a single staff member, who is planning events on March 22 and May 14, respectively, for its leadership groups for African-Americans and for women.

Change underway at Greensboro United Way

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — As it begins its annual fundraising campaign, which aims to raise 3.5 percent more than it did last year, United Way of Greater Greensboro is undergoing changes in its strategy and top leadership.

In recent weeks, United Way has lost its vice president of donor relations, hired a new chief financial officer and brought in a former executive at American Express as a consultant on its new “community impact” strategy, says Sue Cole, chair of United Way’s board of directors.

Aiming to make an impact on some of the region’s toughest health and human services problems, United Way is shifting its focus to collaborative efforts to help boost academic performance and grade advancement for children, improve health literacy, and strengthen the financial stability for individuals and families.

“A lot of things have to be done differently” as a result of that new long-term strategy, says Cole, who is managing partner at Sage Leadership & Strategy.

Marci Peace, former vice president for finance at Greensboro College, has joined United Way as vice president for finance and administration.

And United Way’s board has hired Michelle Gethers-Clark, president at The Center for Service and Leadership and former senior vice president and general manager for card operations at American Express, as a consultant on an interim basic on the community impact strategy.

Cole says Gethers-Clark is “coaching and mentoring all of our employees about the processes and strategies related to the community impact model, as well as fundraising strategies.

“As we’re moving to this new model, we’re looking not only at how we impact the community, but also how we’re doing business inside the organization,” Cole says.

She says the campaign, which has a goal of $11 million and is chaired by Harold Martin, chancellor at N.C. A&T State University, is “going very well.”

An event earlier this month for women donors was attended by over 150 women and raised about $15,000, or triple what it raised at its inaugural event last year.

Keith Barsuhn, president and CEO of United Way, says Gethers-Clark is working to “help us align our internal processes and strategies and tactics” to the organization’s new strategic plan.

“That enables key people, including myself, to be laser-focused on the campaign,” he says.

The “transformational changes” at United Way, including the way it works externally with community partners and stakeholders, and internally among staff, have elicited a range of responses from employees, he says.

“For some people, it’s exciting,” he says. “For some people, change is concerning.”

In addition to the former chief financial officer, who left early last summer, Barsuhn says, United Way’s former marketing director left in the spring, and a development officer left at the same time for another job.

“I am excited about the success of our new direction,” he says. “I feel very confident about our ability to achieve the goal.”

United Way also has set a “stretch” goal of $11.25 million, representing an increase of 5.9 percent from the total raised last year.

That larger goal, Barsuhn says, is “in our sights, too.”

Greensboro United Way aims to be change agent

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Ninety-two percent of boys in grades three through five at Wiley Elementary School in Greensboro who received mentoring last school year through a pilot program launched in December by United Way of Greater Greensboro in partnership with Communities in Schools of Greater Greensboro passed their end-of-grade math test at the end of the school year.

That compares with 38 percent of all students in the school who took the test two years ago and passed that test.

The mentoring partnership is part of a larger effort by United Way to make an impact on some of the region’s most urgent health and human services needs.

As it kicks off its annual fundraising drive, United Way is focusing on partnership initiatives to help increase academic performance and grade advancement for children, improve health literacy, and boost the financial stability for individuals and families.

The emerging strategy aims to “develop a collaborative vision for the long-term economic success of our residents,” says Keith Barsuhn, president and CEO at United Way. “Our primary focus is collaborative efforts for community change.”

Chaired by Harold Martin, chancellor at N.C. A&T State University, the campaign aims to raise $11 million, up 3.5 percent from nearly $10.7 million it raised last year.

Raising money, Barsuhn says, is a strategy to support the larger effort to improve lives for vulnerable people.

Collaborative initiatives in that effort, known as the Blueprint for Lasting Change, will have specific community goals, with performance tied to specific metrics, such as the percentage of students passing the end-of-grade test.

All those initiatives will be rooted in building the capacity of partner agencies that provide volunteers to work with clients.

United Way, for example, aims to invest $1.3 million for a community-wide mentoring program, known as Mentoring Matters, that is based on the pilot last year at Wiley Elementary, which also included boys in second grade.

A second initiative will focus on Thriving at Three, a program launched in 2006 that works to ensure that children from birth to age 3 receive the care, parenting and support they need.

That community-based program works with families in the Claremont Courts neighborhood, and in the Latino community, in partnership with the Greensboro Housing Authority and Greensboro Public Library, including an early-literacy project launched in July, known as Raising a Reader.

For the pilot project at Wiley Elementary, which also included boys in grade 2, Communities in Schools matched nearly 50 mentors with young boys.

United Way is developing a new health literacy initiative in partnership with the Cone Health Foundation.

And it is developing the new economic success effort in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro to help families develop more financial stability.

That effort will be part of Greensboro Works, a larger partnership the two agencies are leading to connect people who need better jobs skills with opportunities for training and jobs.

“The¬† resources you need for this work, whether they be dollars, volunteers or advocacy work, are the strategies to achieve those community-change goals,” Barsuhn says.

“We want to have a fierce focus on setting community-level change goals,” he says. “That’s the measure that we think is important if we’re having an impact in this community. It’s not just about achieving fundraising goals.”