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United Way: National Report

Brian Gallagher
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Brian A. Gallagher
United Way of America President and CEO
Thursday, May 15, 2008; 2:00 PM

The United Way of America, alarmed at the nation's fraying safety net, will announce today that it will direct its giving toward ambitious 10-year goals that would cut in half the high school dropout rate and the number of working families struggling financially.

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The nonprofit organization also wants to increase by one-third the number of youths and adults considered healthy. The announcement comes as it releases a report detailing a precipitous decline in key education, personal finance and health indicators.

"The country is at a crossroads right now," said Brian A. Gallagher, the United Way's president and chief executive. "I've never felt a time in my career where there's this combination of enough pain, feeling of a lack of progress, feeling like we've stalled, combined with a next generation of leadership demanding change."

Gallagher was online Thursday, May 15, at 2 p.m. ET to detail the report and the United Way's proposals.

A transcript follows.

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Brian A. Gallagher: Hi. This is Brian Gallagher from United Way. I look forward to your questions.

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Washington, D.C.: Exactly how are you going to help provide better health for citizens?

Brian A. Gallagher: We're looking at the entire health access spectrum. How do we make sure that young people and adults have access to prevention programs for instance. But we will also get involved in providing a voice for folks on the public policy front, and we're already working right now to fund health clinics in public schools.

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Washington, D.C. : How is this different from the work UWA is already doing?

Brian A. Gallagher: What's really different is we're no longer measuring our success just by how much money we raise or how much activity we fund but what results are really been accomplished. In other words its moving from funding after school programs to how is that work helping young people achieve academically stay in school and graduate.

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Martinsburg, W.Va.: I represent a nonprofit agency--EastRidge Health Systems. We work with the mentally retarded/developmentally disabled, addicts, and clients with mental illnesses. How do we apply to see if we qualify to receive funds from the United Way?

Brian A. Gallagher: There are really two answers. Local United Ways will stay involved with other private and public funders to make sure there is a safety net in our communities. Many times that may be advocating for public policy that creates that safety net. Secondly, folks with mental and phsical challenges many times struggle in each area of education, income, and health. That would make them part of the focus in many cases.

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Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: Will United Way provide annual updates on its progress?

Brian A. Gallagher: The updates will come every two years simply because most of the data that is collected by mostly public agencies get collected in that time frame. For those areas where annual data is available we will release. The important point for us is that we will hold ourselves and our partners publicly accountable.

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Iowa City, Iowa: How does the growing population of elderly fit into this new focus? In our community, United Way is an important supporter of many services critical to helping the aging population cope. Thank you.

Brian A. Gallagher: Increasingly we see and believe that seniors will struggle financially and with getting access to quality affordable health care. With the aging of the country we will have to focus on seniors in those two issue areas I believe if we are to make overall progress.

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Newark, N.J.: As you have officially refocused the United Way in these three areas do you see the local affiliates strategically choosing organizations to support? National Organizations like yours, YMCA's and Boys and Girls Clubs can make an amazing impact on local communities if they work together. Is this something that will be encouraged? Especially since some large National organizations are already doing great work in these areas.

Brian A. Gallagher: Absolutely. We convene a group called leadership 18 which is comprised of the largest health and human service organizations in the country, including those that you have listed. As a group we have agreed to work much more closely together to make this kind of change. We just funded joint projects of these organizations in the Gulf Coast in order to get them to work together. This will happen across the country as collaboration becomes a more important funding criteria.

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Oakton, Va.: Do you believe people should focus their charitable donations to well run, organized, national charities? The advantage is economies of scale and a lower operating margin, meaning more money that goes to the mission of the charity.

Do you find you are "competing" for dollars with charities that may not run as efficiently or may even not be as committed to their mission as the United Way?

Brian A. Gallagher: I think the model of working to solve problems locally but leveraging that work at a state and national scale is the best model. So we set this direction around education, income, and health. We help local UW's act on it, but then we take the best practice and spread it across the country. At that point we can bring major corporations, foundations like Gates and Lilly and public funding in nationally to invest in the best practice.

I think folks should invest in organizations that show the greatest results.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What made the United Way decide to take action on these issues now? Was there a tipping point?

Brian A. Gallagher: You know we have been making progress organizationally. Our revenue is growing and we're seeing incremental progress but the social issues in the country just weren't improving. So we felt like we just had to make a commitment in order to get ourselves and others to think differently about how to approach our problems. I also feel like the American people are ready to really get involved to make real change.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Gallagher,

Despite strategies that have failed to regain lost donors and falling market share of charitable giving, the executive staff of United way of America has remained in place, many for decades and through several CEOs. Will changes be made to support this new strategic vision? And if not, how do you expect to succeed?

Brian A. Gallagher: Actually, we have reduced the staff count at UWA over the last decade. We are one of the smallest national offices of any national non-profit organization. Most of our resources are raised and invested locally. We have made and continue to make real changes in our operation to support this direction.

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Mesa, Ariz.: I have personally never heard of any valid 10-year goals. In fact, a college professor of mine once said that even 5 year goals are not worth the papyrus they were written on.

What metrics were used to arrive at such a lengthy timeline?

Brian A. Gallagher: Actually putting a man on the moon in the next ten years changed the way that America looked at the space program. It changed what we watched on television and what we dreamed of and we did it. There currently is an initiative in many cities across the country to end homelessness in ten years and it's working. These are big problems that won't be solved in the short term. You're absolutely right, however, that progress needs to be monitored constantly and strategies adjusted if they're not working.

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Fairfax, Va.: I commend United Way for taking a stand on these issues. I see how you're including different businesses and nonprofits, but how can individuals get involved?

Brian A. Gallagher: Thanks. You can go to Live United.org and learn more about the issues, you can also look at volunteer opportunities by zip code or issue area. Also, when a public policy issue arises that we think could have a positive or negative effect on these goals you'll have the ability to email your congressional leadership with your point of view.

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Alexandria, Va.: In response to an earlier question you said results would be reported roughly every two years based on data availability from national sources. Will this initiative do anything to explicitly encourage local United Ways or human service organizations (as an example) to track these outcomes on behalf of the clients they serve, and on a more frequent basis? If so, how will the capacity to collect such data be supported?

Brian A. Gallagher: Good point. Yes, local United Ways are already tracking much of this data locally. What's different here is that we have now agreed to track the same data. Resources to track and keep data is a challenge. It's one of the reasons that we used credible existing sources, but we're also working with academic institutions and others to take advantage of their expertise and resource.

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Sewickley, Pa.: What is United Way's position on helping low-income women with family planning and reproductive services?

Brian A. Gallagher: What gets funded is a local United Way decision. I will say that many local UW's are very involved in pregnancy prevention efforts.

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Rockville, Md.: How will United Way encourage local United Way's to embrace the focus of education, income and health?

Brian A. Gallagher: We will focus our training, professional development, best practice recognition, and leverage our national funding partners in these three areas. What we find is that if we define standards of excellence in a very concrete way and put resources behind it that local United Ways will adopt it. They watch and copy each other. Also, when folks like Gates, Lilly, and Bank of America invest in UWA for national intiatives it brings alignment locally.

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Hyattsville, Md.: What do you see will be the biggest challenge in being effective in this new approach?

Brian A. Gallagher: The inertia in the systems that will have to change to pull this off. School systems, health care systems, public welfare systems were built for a different time and a different economy. We are going to have change a lot. That's why we're also launching Live United as a way to create a social movement around this agenda. When you get a critical mass of the public demanding change is the only way that real social changes happens.

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New York, N.Y.: Do you think United Way of America and local United Ways are ready to take an honest look at some of the hurtful business practices, related to health and income, that some of its biggest donors are related to or are perpetrating?

Bravo to this new approach!

Brian A. Gallagher: I think there is a way to lift up those corporations that are doing it right in order to make those business practices the norm. Again, referring to a response to another question, when the public/customers demand change that's when a company or system changes.

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Washington, D.C.: Nice to see some shifts by United Way, but will it continue to put most of its money toward organizations that have no trouble raising funds themselves?

Brian A. Gallagher: We invest in both large and small organizations. I think the key to having the large organizations involved is that they have capacity. The key is getting them to use that capacity in a way that truly gets results versus just activity. And that will increasingly mean not just being focused on their own work and mission but to work with others in order to make community level change. We have the ability to leverage that type of change.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Hi Brian,

How are you enlisting the help and involvement of the younger generation, the teens, the twenty-somethings?

Brian A. Gallagher: We have dedicated resources on this area. A few things: 1. We're establishing UW affiliates on college campuses. They will be student run. 2. The alternative spring break has brought hundrends of young people together in the Gulf Coast and beyond for a week of service during spring break. 3. There is a growing number of young leaders societies at local UW's. 4. Finally, we're just about to launch a partnership with several social networking sites to engage young people. Watch Live United.org for that one.

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Newark, N.J.: I come from a local non-profit and we have traditionally stayed away from accepting United Way funding due to some of the constraints that are then put on how we raise the rest of our income. Will these constraints that I refer to still be in place or does that change as you change your focus? Will our organnization now be free to fundraise as we see fit if we accept United Way funding?

Brian A. Gallagher: This is a local UW policy. We are encouraging local UW's to loosen those rules and an increasing number are doing it.

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Alexandria, Va.: Dropout rates are notoriously subject to a wide-ranging set of definitions and often very hard to compare. Will there be any attempt to use a standard definition, or to only report data that comport with such a common definition?

Brian A. Gallagher: We're using the National Center for Education Statistics. Our line of thinking was that there are, as you say, varying ways of measuring this stuff. We went out to find a credible source that counts all beginning freshman, not just those entering seniors. The numbers are so bad no matter how it's counted we wanted to get a credible source and stick with it. If we can push for and get more consistency we would consider how to respond to that.

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Brian A. Gallagher: I'm sorry that we're out of time. Thanks for your interest and for terrific questions. I'm sorry that I was not able to get to all of them. For those that I didn't get to that are still in queue we'll work with washingtonpost.com to figure out how to answer them or you can go to LiveUnited.org and email your question directly to me and us.

Thanks for your interest.

Brian

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washingtonpost.com: Live United

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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