By Andrea Bosco Stehle
Four elite executives have their sights set high as they kick off the United Way of Allegheny County’s annual campaign
Last year was a record year for United Way of Allegheny County. The nonprofit raised more than $34.7 million during one of the largest fundraisers in the region, its annual campaign. The funds raised supported notable achievements, such as helping thousands of at-risk children and youth see the value of a good education through its mentoring and school attendance initiatives; helping those who are struggling financially get back on their feet; keeping thousands of seniors safe and independent in their own homes; helping people with disabilities secure jobs; and working to help veterans and their families come back to civilian life.
This year, the organization’s 2015 campaign is embarking on its quest for heightened success with its dynamic corporate leaders paving the way. Co-chairs Karen Larrimer and Greg Jordan are kicking off a series of events this month, which will culminate with a celebration in the spring that will highlight the achievements of this year’s campaign.
Particularly passionate about United Way, Larrimer and Jordan are looking to target specific demographics to create increased awareness, volunteerism, and engagement. “Young professionals are responding very well to it and that’s an exciting development for us,” says Jordan, general counsel, executive vice president, and head of regulatory and government affairs of PNC Bank. “They seem to appreciate our emphasis on initiatives that impact veterans and children. United Way can offer companies opportunities to not only give to improve people’s lives, but to also volunteer in ways that align with their corporate mission. It’s a win-win. They can increase employee engagement, all while helping United Way help people.”
Adds Larrimer, executive vice president, chief customer officer, and chief marketing officer of PNC Bank, “We recognize that how we grew up giving is not necessarily the same today. United Way campaigns in the workplace have changed over the years, so we want to move that young professional group into volunteerism and then giving, and hope to continue to grow with them as they grow their careers.”
As successful corporate leaders, Larrimer and Jordan feel it is their responsibility to do what they can to better our community. In unison, they agree United Way is the perfect avenue to unite their compassion and corporate expertise. “We have a history here of very, very successful campaigns. We want to build on that,” Jordan says. “This year, we introduced a cabinet strategy where we brought in leaders from around the community — corporate, university, etc. — to help target discreet industries and professions, and engage their peers. We’re also spending a lot of time trying to continue to develop a very successful women’s initiative, which has been a great success here.” Last year, United Way of Allegheny County Women’s Leadership Council’s 2,032 members rallied to raise more than $8.9 million. Larrimer says she became committed to United Way as she learned about “what a great organization it is in terms of how it leverages the resources it has” from her post on the United Way Board and Executive Committee. “The forming of partnerships that are aligned with the United Way Impact funds and programs really drew me in because you know your money is going to something that addresses a very specific need in our community,” says Larrimer.
At the end of the day, Larrimer takes her work home with her as she spends ample time instilling similar values in her children. “You are never too young to participate, or to learn that individual actions make a difference. We encourage our own children to donate toys they have grown out of,” says the mother of four. “I hope they learn from my work with United Way that we are even more effective as givers when we work as a community than we are as individuals or even as a family.”
Jordan, a father of two, is equally devoted to helping others. “I’m a realist,” he says. “There are really small things that make the difference between somebody needing help and somebody being in a position to help others. It may be one lucky meeting, one opportunity, or one bad break to put you on the other side of the table. I’m lucky enough to be in this position, and I want to make sure that we do all we can to help United Way help as many people as it can.”
This year’s co-chairs ultimately care about the well-being of people. Their day-to-day duties as high-level, corporate executives humbly translate into their charitable efforts. “I align myself with organizations I care about,” says Larrimer. “I tell young people, ‘If you align with those things that you love, you find the time and commitment to carry through and do the things that you should because your passion is there to back it up.’” And, of course, esteemed internal leadership is key. Adds Jordan, “Through real creativity by [President] Bob Nelkin and the staff, the organization has continued to succeed and grow each year despite what’s been happening with United Way campaigns around the country, which have struggled during the recession and the slow recovery. We’re grateful that the companies in Pittsburgh have such a history of corporate responsibility.”
Passion In Action
For Jack Barbour, CEO, managing director, and chairman of the board of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, serving as board chair of United Way of Allegheny County was a natural fit. “Our organization really does do good for people truly in need,” he says. “Our mission is very specific, and very efficient in how it delivers services, goods, and support to people who need it. It’s hard to be involved with United Way and not be passionate about the work.”
His passion for helping others sparked outside of the organization, as his granddaughter suffers from lissencephaly. The rare brain formation disorder makes her completely dependent on his son and daughter-in-law. “She will never walk, talk, or be able to do anything for herself,” he says. “We’re attuned to the help that’s out there and what United Way can do for those with these challenges. What will someone in her condition need now, in the future, and when my son and daughter-in-law can no longer care for her?”
Barbour’s focus as board chair is to continue to close those gaps and see how to achieve support in those areas of need, namely as those needs continue to increase as government resources continue to be constrained. “United Way is in it for the long-haul to drive big, systemic change. I want to make sure the community my children and grandchildren inherit is the best it can be. Every person deserves the chance for a promising future.”
Barbour cited the quality and breadth of United Way’s relationships, which bring the community’s most effective, influential change-makers together to solve local, real-time issues. “We work with the best local human service agencies to tackle some of the most challenging problems, whether it’s supporting aging caregivers, improving school attendance, or helping those facing a crisis turn their lives back around.”
United Way is also working to be relevant to a younger generation of people. “We’re showing them why it’s important to be involved,” Barbour says. To that end, United Way’s board includes two millennial representatives and a team of around 50 young professionals who work as a steering committee to plan volunteer events, and networking and learning opportunities to get a new generation engaged in United Way’s mission.
His work includes spreading the word broadly and effectively. “When Bob [Nelkin] retires and I retire, we must have a group of passionate leaders ready to carry the torch. Those who are most vulnerable in our community are counting on us.”
Making An Impact
Highmark Health Plans President Deb Rice-Johnson witnessed families receiving help from United Way agencies as a result of life circumstances at an early age. As she started her professional career, she began to give to United Way with an understanding that her contribution, along with the contributions from other employees, could make an impact to help build a stronger community. “Today, I carry with me the value that United Way provides to an array of people and how our workforce — giving as a group — can be a tremendous catalyst for positive change and improving the lives of our neighbors,” she says.
Locally, she’s leading United Way of Allegheny County’s Impact Cabinet with four focus areas: to build a strong educational foundation for children and youth; to help individuals and families regain and maintain financial stability; to provide critical in-home support for seniors; and to help people with disabilities achieve greater independence. She explains, “I’m a firm believer that United Way’s Impact Fund is extremely valuable because it encourages United Way agency collaboration in working together to address community issues and deliver positive outcomes.”
As a business leader, Rice-Johnson connects the dots between colleagues, employees, and emerging community issues to bring together the right partners. “We want to identify and tackle the most critical issues our community faces to ensure that we determine results-oriented initiatives to deliver measurable, positive change,” she says. This past year, United Way of Allegheny County’s Hi5! Kindergarten, Here I Come transformed on-time kindergarten enrollment, achieving an increase of 90 percent enrollment (up from 20 percent in previous years). To date, more than 320 middle school students across 15 schools participated in Be a Middle School Mentor, measurably improving their grades in reading and math, along with higher attendance rates. And, fitUnited provided more than 7,500 healthy meals and snacks to hungry kids this year alone. “I’d say that’s success!” Rice-Johnson says.
One of the nonprofit’s newest initiatives, United for Children: Motivating Kids to Succeed, strives to touch tens of thousands of children in areas ranging from healthier nutrition and increased physical activity, to preparedness for kindergarten and high-quality after-school and summer programs, in the next five years. To help achieve this program’s objective, she says she’s “committed to challenging the Highmark workforce to serve as a model when it comes to fundraising and volunteering.” Additionally, Rice-Johnson is working to create a coalition for veterans to provide frequently needed services as well as to help subside the challenges posed for veterans in the workplace. She says, “One component of this effort will provide recruitment and employment-focused support for former military personnel.”
In keeping this year’s campaign at the forefront, Rice-Johnson sees the organization continuing to build on successful programs that achieve results, as well as innovating new programs to impact the lives of people in need. “The bottom line is that the more the community supports United Way, both financially and through volunteerism, the bigger difference we’ll make,” she says. “We work to build and expand initiatives that dive deep into the core of problems to create long-term, sustainable change.”
+ Support the United Way: To give, advocate, volunteer, or keep up with future events, visit unitedwaypittsburgh.org.