Last updated on July 7th, 2019 at 02:34 pm
While it will take a few years for United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County to demonstrate its impact as a merged organization, early indicators of success were revealed Tuesday evening as the nonprofit announced a record campaign total of more than $60 million.
The community campaign, an annual pursuit of the nonprofit organization, was the first it completed under its new structure. United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County emerged from a merger between United Way of Greater Milwaukee and United Way in Waukesha County. That merger, made official in February, sought to create more efficiencies for the organizations in terms of infrastructure, customer service and finances, according to president and chief executive officer Mary Lou Young.
The organization, which focuses on boosting education, income and health for families in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee counties, had its eye on collecting $60 million through its 2015 campaign. Results, which exceeded that goal by more than $66,000, were made public during a celebration hosted by Glendale-based Johnson Controls, Inc.
The campaign launched in August, steered by co-chairs Cory Nettles, partner at Milwaukee-based Quarles & Brady LLP; Suzanne Kelley, president of the Waukesha County Business Alliance; Cathy Jacobson, president and CEO of Froedtert Health; and Alex Molinaroli, chairman, president and CEO of Johnson Controls.
In an exclusive interview with BizTimes Milwaukee on Tuesday, Young said that campaign failure is not an option for the organization as many of the families its dollars touch live in poverty and need urgent access to quality care and resources.
Young would prefer to enhance life rather than sustain it through her efforts at United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, she said, but with current community conditions, the organization is sustaining lives in the community. One in four lives benefit from campaign funds as funds are distributed among more than 110 of United Way’s area partner agencies.
The nonprofit won’t be able to solve poverty, Young said, as the issue extends beyond its capabilities.
“But we have an enormous impact on it,” she said.
To further its impact, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County has announced plans to build a volunteer engagement center that will expand the volunteer programs it facilitates for corporations, individuals and families.
The Johnson Controls Volunteer Engagement Center is made possible by a $1 million, three-year contribution from Johnson Controls, which proved to be the campaign’s most significant corporate supporter.
Additional 2015 campaign heavyweights – each of which donated upwards of $1 million in employee gifts and corporate gifts – were Aurora Health Care; Baird; BMO Harris Bank; Fiduciary Management, Inc.; General Electric; Harley-Davidson Motor Company; MillerCoors; Northwestern Mutual; Rockwell Automation; and WE Energies.
To help celebrate United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County’s campaign success as a reimagined organization, United Way Worldwide president and CEO Brian Gallagher spent Tuesday in Milwaukee, capping the day with an appearance at the campaign reception.
In an exclusive interview with BizTimes Milwaukee, Gallagher said that, according to a per capita basis, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County outperforms its peers across the country.
The nonprofit effectively connects its community impact work with its fundraising work, Gallagher said.
“So it’s inviting donors into this work of scaling the work on issues that matter,” Gallagher said.
For a community the size of Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties, the nonprofit has scaled many community-wide initiatives effectively, according to Young.
The organization has demonstrated that living united is about community – not about politics or wealth or race, Young said.
“It is about a community,” she said. “Our four-county footprint comprises a very different demographic with people with very different opinions, and yet we all come together to live united and to make community change that scales successfully.”
Gallagher pointed to United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County’s success in reducing teenage pregnancy as an example of considerable impact – one known across the international United Way network.
Teenage birth rates have decreased 56 percent in Milwaukee in the last decade, largely under the United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha-driven Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. That initiative, born in 2008, set out to lower teenage birth rates by 46 percent by 2015.
“It’s something that’s we’ve held up as a way that a community collectively goes after a big issue,” Gallagher said.
Continuing to curb teenage pregnancy rates will remain one of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County’s priorities in the year ahead, according to Young.
Beside that priority sits infant mortality – what Young deems the “ugly stepsister” of teenage pregnancy – as well as early childhood education, reading proficiency, veterans’ issues and human trafficking.
The nonprofit is “very conscientious” about embarking on community issues in perpetuity, Young said.
“Once we commit (to an issue), we commit for the long term,” Young said, adding that the nonprofit cannot take its foot off the pedal on an issue it addresses as it must maintain the momentum of its progress.
On a global level, United Way Worldwide has elevated early childhood development, youth success, and income and social mobility as core areas ripe for impact, according to Gallagher.
Among the biggest challenges the country is facing are greater income gaps, largely due to the globalization of the economy, Gallagher said.
“What that means for communities all over the world is that your place in the economy changes,” he said. “So we’re no longer a national industrial economy in the United States.”
Jobs created in cities are changing, and it takes time for nonprofit organizations, government and other community entities to catch up with the new economy, he said.
United Way Worldwide will also focus many of its resources on increasing access to quality health care for families in need, according to Gallagher.
United Way – on a local, national and international level – also must continue reiterating its relevance and revamping to meet the ever-changing needs of its communities, according to both Gallagher and Young.
In Milwaukee, United Way’s history stretches 127 years. The nonprofit has continued to evolve to support the community’s most pressing needs as well as adapt to the customers and donors fueling it.
It’s “incumbent” upon United Way to listen to its customers and community members to work toward filling their needs, Young said.
Among the approaches United Way has taken to remaining relevant is the launch of United Way LINC (Lead. Impact. Network. Change.). The affiliate organization caters to young professionals wanting to take an active role in transforming their communities.
“Hopefully organizations like LINC will help you build the United Way that you want to inherit,” Young said.