What is your biggest challenge right now?

As the new executive director of United Way, my biggest challenge is preserving and building on the incredible, 64-year-old legacy that this organization has, while simultaneously looking toward the future with growth in mind. While it can be a delicate balance, I feel confident that we have all the right people on our side. We have an enthusiastic, committed Board of Directors, a crackerjack staff with decades of experience between them, and a community full of volunteers who never fail to say “yes.” We are only as strong as the company we keep, and I know we’re surrounded by the best people with the biggest hearts.

I see many opportunities for growth in the years to come, and the challenge will be to consider the options and decide what works best for the Kennebec Valley. No matter how we continue to evolve, our number-one goal will always be to make sure that the people in our community are taken care of. Right now, our priority is to increase our fundraising effort to a record-high $1.8 million this fall. With the support of the business community and generous individual donors, I believe we can get there — and local people facing hardships need us now more than ever.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

When I was a child, growing up in a house with three sisters, my mother’s response to a typical sibling squabble was, “Just love each other.” Mother does, indeed, know best. Of course, I ended up loving my sisters very much, but her phrase left a much deeper imprint on me than she could imagine. I took her advice for our family a step further because I realized that I — like everyone else — had an endless supply of love to give. I spent time volunteering at a soup kitchen to show people in need that someone cared. As a college student, I spread love to younger children by becoming a mentor. And now, at United Way, I am lucky to make a career out of connecting those who want to give with those who need it most. If I could have it my way, the whole world would “just love each other.” We’re inching closer and closer to that ideal world every day, and United Way is one of the best ways that people can spread love and make an impact.

How do you foster creativity in yourself and in your staff?

United Way of Kennebec Valley has a long history of being the gold-standard for workplace fundraising in our community. In order to continue building on that success in my new position, I’m asking my team to stop and question everything in our quest to constantly innovate and grow. We don’t want to continue a practice just because it’s the “way we’ve always done things.” We’re taking time to look at where we are and where we want to be as an organization. There are more than 22,000 people utilizing the services of our 51 funded nonprofit programs. That’s 22,000 people who are relying on us to get it right. For me, the major motivator for creativity is that if United Way doesn’t continue to evolve, a single mother and her two children might not have a place to lay their heads at night, and a homebound elder might not have a daily meal.

We are also fortunate to be connected with the vast United Way network across the world, while still keeping 100 percent of our donated dollars in the local community. We share ideas with other United Way colleagues, learn from their successes and challenges, and try not to reinvent the wheel. When you lead an extremely lean organization with only four staff members, playing to your strengths and leaning on the expertise of others, including your Board members, is key.

What is your biggest concern?

United Way’s business partners have always been extremely generous toward United Way. In the past three years alone, our fundraising campaign has increased more than 19 percent — reaching a record-breaking $1.74 million last year. Those businesses have always been there for us, sharing the United Way message with all of their employees. The question is, where do we go from here? Yes, our 130-plus business partners and their generous employees continue to grow their support of United Way, but they can’t carry all of the weight. We’ve looked at the data, and it’s telling us that the number of UWKV donors hasn’t really changed in the past few years. Yet we’ve raised $300,000 more in that same time period. That means that our existing business partners and donors continue to dig deeper and deeper — and that’s not a sustainable model.

We have 3,130 people donating to UWKV, but there are more than 77,000 people living in our catchment area. Clearly, we have plenty of room to grow, but we need more businesses and individuals to rise up and support this community that we’re lucky enough to call our own. If you run a business, or are an employee at any company, we need you to ask right folks, “Is there a way for us to get involved with United Way to help local people?” If we get even 3,150 more people on our side, just think of what we could accomplish.

How do you navigate the changing conditions in your industry?

I’ve never met anyone who set out to be a fundraiser. People fall into this field by accident, often because they are extremely passionate about a certain cause, or because they enjoy building relationships. Because really, raising money is about connecting with a person, understanding what he or she is passionate about, and helping that person make a meaningful impact. Although fundraising best practices and the preferences of donors will continue to shift, people’s goodwill and desire to make a difference will always remain. My job is to help people activate the part of themselves that wants to leave the world a better place. Isn’t that something we can all get behind?

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