News and analysis
September 25, 2012

United Way Appoints New Leader to Oversee American Operations

Three years after merging its national and international operations under the United Way Worldwide umbrella, the nation’s largest charity on Tuesday announced it has appointed a president to oversee its U.S. network of more than 1,200 local members.

Stacey Stewart is scheduled to take on the newly created position next month. Ms. Stewart served as chief executive of the Fannie Mae Foundation before going to work at United Way Worldwide in 2009 as an executive vice president.

Mrs. Stewart will report to Brian Gallagher, who is chief executive of United Way Worldwide. The move will allow Mr. Gallagher to spend more time on the charity’s expansion overseas.

United Way raises nearly $4-billion in the United States and $1.2 billion around the world.

Changing the Culture

Mrs. Stewart said she will work to improve cohesion among the United States groups as they seek to make progress focusing fundraising and grants on three goals: reducing high-school drop-out rates, helping working families achieve financial stability, and improving Americans’ health by helping them avoid smoking and weight gain.

United Way urged its affiliates to focus on those goals in 2008, but Mrs. Stewart said she wants to accelerate progress.

A committee made up of local United Way leaders has been working for the past two years to identify ways to improve the organization’s U.S. operations. Mrs. Stewart said in an interview at the organization’s headquarters here that she will focus on carrying out their priorities, including a need to change the culture of the United Way to focus on the three broad national goals.

Recruiting Top Talent

The committee also identified another priority: recruiting and retaining top talent throughout the national network.

“We are people helping people,” she said. The organization needs to be “attracting the very best people to do this work.”

What’s more, she said, the committee urged her to focus on ways to help the companies that support United Way achieve their philanthropic goals.

Mrs. Stewart said the position of president may be newly created but that it was a role that the organization’s members agreed upon in 2009 when they voted to merge the international and national groups.

“The decision to create the U.S. president was done when the worldwide vote was taken back in 2009,” she said. “The task force has been looking forward to this day as have a lot of United Ways in the United States. They’ve been accustomed to having a president focused on the U.S. They embrace [Mr. Gallagher’s] role focusing on the worldwide network. It’s a nice thing to know there is another leader here working specifically on the issues of the U.S.”

John Nazzaro, president of Heart of Arkansas United Way, said it would take time to see if the new position makes any difference in helping local groups.

Mr. Nazzaro said most of the internal discussion about the appointment centered on a lack of understanding about what role Mrs. Stewart would play in improving the day-to-day operations of local United Ways.

“In six months, I may say it’s the best thing since sliced bread,” he said. “Over time we’ll find that out.”