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United Way Looks To the Future

United Way Looks to the Future 
Feb. 6, 2024

Times are tough for many nonprofit organizations. Costs are up; donations are down. Volunteers are staying home, and many charities are looking for new business models to become more sustainable. In the face of these mounting challenges, nonprofits are turning to new, transformational leaders, and forming partnerships with other organizations, corporations, and government entities.

One such forward-looking organization is United Way Worldwide (United Way). One of the largest and most successful community-based organizations in the world, United Way touches the lives of 48 million people across 95 percent of the United States and 37 countries. It works with public-private partnerships, including local governments, civil society and 45,000 corporate sector partners. United Way’s core priorities focus on education, economic mobility, health and community resilience, and a key piece of its work in 2024 is focused on diversifying funding streams and revenue and leveraging those partnerships with the corporate sector.

For example, a unique partnership with DoorDash, a U.S.-based company, delivers food and household supplies to vulnerable populations. Through discussions with local agencies, food banks, and grocery partners, United Way has worked with DoorDash to make over 25 million deliveries to people in need. In fact, a recent analysis by the Urban Institute found that this initiative has helped nearly 98 percent of enrollees save money and has allowed almost 90 percent of enrollees to better prioritize their health and families with the time and money that they saved.

In partnership with a network of over 1,000 local United Ways and affiliates to deliver results, the organization’s turnaround is being led by Angela F. Williams, the charity’s first Black woman president and CEO. Before joining United Way, Williams was president and CEO of Easterseals. She also served as a JAG in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps for more than six years and was the Interfaith Liaison for the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

Known and recognized as an innovative leader, Williams likes to quote minister and professor H.E. Luccock, who once said that “no one can whistle a symphony; it takes an orchestra to play it” and she uses this quote as a motto to live by. In interviews and speeches, Williams comes across as optimistic, clearheaded, and future oriented. She believes that the times call for investment in communities like never before, and she speaks of the necessity of starting with a deep understanding of local needs, reflecting on the people that United Way seeks to serve, and being in it for the long haul.

Calling on the advice and guidance of its more than 1,000 affiliates around the world, Williams has made it her priority to be “agile enough to navigate the grey, when needed.” “We all know that we’re living in the midst of unprecedented times: from the simultaneous global surge of authoritarianism, escalating climate emergencies, economic instability, to growing division and mistrust, stated Williams in an email message to the writer. “Leading through the grey means embracing the uncertainty and viewing it as an opportunity instead of a challenge.”

Likewise, Williams is committed to investing in the next generation. One of the things that she is most passionate about is building a better world for the next generation and inviting them to be a part of that process.

Turnarounds don’t happen overnight, and they require the actions of many committed individuals. But Angela Williams has put a stake in the ground and vowed to move the organization forward into uncertain times. As climate change, food insecurity, a polarized political environment, mass migration, and the prospect of future pandemics continue to plague communities across the country and around the world, Williams and the United Way are in a unique position to address these issues head on.

United Way is experiencing an exciting yet challenging time of transformational growth – working to bring its 135-year-old organization into a new era, and with William’s leadership at the helm, it is in a prime position to make positive, long-lasting changes in the world.