Name: Rob Gordon

Age: 70

Title: Executive director

Company: United Way of Kennebec Valley, Augusta

About: United Way is a nonprofit organization that works with partner programs to identify human care needs, and to raise and allocate money to meet those needs.



What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Helping my board members make the most equitable distributions of campaign funds that we were given last fall. They are given to organizations in the community that provide human services. The needs that come to us always exceed the dollars we have available. The challenge is to prioritize the needs and make reasonable and equitable distributions and keep in mind and honor the sentiments of the donors as well. We have 49 programs that we support, so we have to divide the pie into a lot of pieces.

This year’s campaign, which concluded in January, was one of our more successful in many years. We were a little over a 7 percent increase from last year.

What is the best advice that you have been given?

To try to develop an acute sense of empathy for other people and to be a good listener.

I received it from a couple of mentors early in my working life when I worked on the emergency floor at Boston City Hospital as one of my first jobs. I was lucky to have a couple of good mentors. I did triage for people with mental illness, substance abuse and homelessness who would find their way to the emergency room. A lot of times, the police brought them in. I would interview them and try to figure out a plan or in most cases, a referral. I worked nights, and it could get pretty lively.


How do you foster creativity in yourself or your staff?

There are 10 United Ways in the state, so I have a group of colleagues who are doing the same work, and we get some very good ideas and support from the national United Way, which does a lot of education and support work for us. We make it a point to sit down quarterly as a group and each of us develops goals for our own work and we share the goals with each other, so we are accountable to each other. There are only four of us on staff, so it makes it easy and difficult at the same time. I really look to help and support from others. And in the many years I have been in the Augusta community, I have had fabulous board members and volunteers that I have worked with and for. That’s a big part of it.

What’s your biggest fear?

I would say we’re living in a stressful time in terms of the divisions in our country. I have four grandchildren, so my biggest concern is what can I do, what can people my age do to make things good for them?

Can we keep talking with each other, and engaging with each other productively in an arena that has a lot of challenging political directions? Can we keep talking together and solving problems?

It’s wonderful to work with people to address community issues. In my line of work, people come together to work on the board (United Way board of directors). The people around my table might not know each other in any other setting, but they come together to work on United Way because they want to do something for the community. Can we keep doing that and can we keep people thoughtful and engaged in tackling community problems?


How do you navigate changing market conditions?

We are looking at different and creative ways to get messages to people and engage with young people.

We have done a lot of fundraising in the workplace, and we are looking for where else can we meet and engage with people.

We don’t have as much fundraising in the workplace as we used to, and we’re more dependent upon people to make individual contributions. Our work is developing relationships and bringing forth concerns of the community, and bringing forth their spirit of generosity and participation.

We have lost several major employers (in the Augusta area) who themselves and through their employees were strong supporters of the United Way. There are fewer workplaces now to carry out the conversations in, and in every workplace, there’s stress and urgency in the work. So it’s harder to bring people together. We don’t have the degree of access that we used to.

But people have responded (to our campaigns; this year’s campaign raised $1.66 million, the most ever collected in support of its programs) and they have not turned away stopped giving to United Way.

The positive thing is that we have been fortunate to find other resources, and people have supported us. We have been able to keep up and keep growing incrementally because people have made generous gifts to us and continue to think of the United Way as a way to support the community.

We reach people through social media, which I am personally not very good at, but I am fortunate to have people on my staff who excel at that. That whole dimension was not there a couple of years ago, so that has supplemented it. The bigger challenge than raising money, though is sitting down and solving the problems people have.

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