United Way currently funds 53 programs across 37 agencies. While most would expect communication to be a huge challenge, our monthly executive director meetings have been instrumental in helping us stay connected with our partners. We’ve found instead a steady stream of opportunities to build relationships, address community needs, and strengthen a supportive network across Champaign County.
Over the past eight years, the monthly meetings have grown significantly in attendance—thanks, in part, to our President and CEO Sue Grey and Director of Community Impact Beverley Baker, whose efforts have focused on continuing the tradition of these meetings while expanding their accessibility and value to the community at large.
Sue has had a particularly noteworthy history with the meetings. “I sat on both sides of the table,” she said, referencing her time as an executive director for Girl Scouts (2003-2006). Her experience as Vice President of United Way (2006-2012) also influenced her perspective on how to bring out the value of these meetings. Now, she says, the meetings have become much more inclusive, with more room for agencies to connect to one another, regardless of their funding status with United Way. “I see this group of individuals who support each other tremendously. From the outside looking in, I notice it more now.”
“I love the opportunity to talk to them,” Sue said of the attendees. “They’re a really smart group, there’s just a vast amount of knowledge in the room about the human condition in Champaign County when we can get together every month. They’re compassionate, caring, smart people.”
The meetings address everything from workplace campaigns, grants and reports, and state funding, to service delivery challenges, advocacy, and legislative issues in the community. “It’s about giving our executive directors a voice within United Way and letting them know that they have people to go to when they have questions or concerns,” Beverley said.
Amy Huang, Community Impact Associate, pointed out through her experiences that “when you’re involved in service, it’s sometimes difficult to see when others are providing similar resources… The meetings help us address any service gaps, and it’s great that huge and small agencies can interact more easily.”
Dale Morrissey, Chief Executive Officer at the Developmental Services Center (DSC) and a regular attendee for years, has also noted a change. “There was a core group of us that attended all of them, but there were some other people that just sort of floated in and out… I guess the most important thing is that people are coming consistently, and participating. I think that’s saying that the meetings are found to be meaningful, and more than just ‘oh, well, we need to come because we’re a funded organization.’”
The meetings used to be held at the United Way office, then briefly at the Champaign Library; growing attendance prompted a move to Vineyard Church in Urbana. “People are wanting to come and get the information—of course, having to get new space is a good sign of that,” Morrissey said.
When asked about how he viewed DSC’s place in United Way’s network, Morrissey said, “I see our role as more than just being a recipient of funds and providing services. I think that we need to be engaged for the health of the entire community. Of course, DSC helps people with developmental disabilities, and that’s what we do, but I think it’s real important that we’re looking at the community as a whole.”
“One of the big things about United Way is just that: we’re united in our efforts as a community, to try and make it better for all of us,” he noted.