Driving Systemic Change in our Community

This column originally appeared in the November 22, 2019 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

James Taylor

By James L.M. Taylor
President & CEO
United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg

Challenges to individual and family success aren’t letting up in the Greater Richmond and Petersburg region. Neither is United Way.

For decades, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg has been a strong force for empowering individuals and driving systemic change to provide everyone with a path to success. However, like our community, your local United Way has changed.

In the past, the organization provided a clear fundraising rallying point for the business community which encouraged, sometimes strongly, their employees to support the campaign. United Way then funded a set group of partner organizations that addressed key needs in our region. Across the country and in Richmond, companies have increasingly shifted their approach to giving.

Rather than focusing on a single community-wide campaign, many have sought to target their giving and leverage their philanthropy to increase the visibility of their organizations, while also seeking to increase employee retention. United Way continues to run and rely upon workplace campaigns, but the changing corporate priorities require us to evolve and find new ways to attract financial resources to help us achieve our mission.

Today, we are focused on meeting the community’s needs by convening partners around specific issues, investing in local nonprofits and creating new, targeted programs when we identify an unmet need in our region. This has proved to be more attractive to donors, more appealing to companies and, most importantly, more impactful in our community.

One example of how we do this is our strong partnership with Dominion Energy. We serve as the administrator for Dominion’s EnergyShare program, which leverages the financial support of the company and more than 4,500 donors annually to help people in need afford to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

We also create new programs that address specific, unmet needs in our region. Our new Kindergarten Countdown Camp provides critical skills to rising kindergarteners who have little or no preschool experience and prevents them from starting school at a learning disadvantage compared to their peers.

We continue to serve as a major funder of local nonprofits, but we do so with a fresh focus on data and outcomes. Our Indicators of Community Strength data dashboard provides the focus for our $8.7 million in funding over the next three years to local nonprofits working across our Steps to Success framework.

The best part: This approach is working. Our strong, local United Way provides our region with a point of pride. Last year, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg saw the second largest rate of growth across all local United Ways in the country. However, our work continues to depend on the generosity of individuals as well as local companies and their employees in order to create this kind of growth in revenue and in services delivered. We are thankful to all our donors for helping us achieve this growth and ask you to join us in celebrating what we have all done … the united way.

James L.M. Taylor is president & CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg. Contact him at: jt@yourunitedway.org.