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THE COSTCO CONNECTION:
During your tenure with United Way,
have you seen many changes in the
BRIAN GALLAGHER: The biggest changes
since I’ve been in United Way have been
driven by globalization of the economy.
United Way is 130 years old. It formed as a
response to the Industrial Revolution,
when people began moving to cities to work
manufacturing jobs. Before the Industrial
Revolution, people mostly lived in towns or
rural areas. Social needs were taken care of
by neighbors, by family members and by
religious organizations. But when people
began to migrate to large cities to work, you
suddenly had a dense concentration of people in urban areas, and that created social
issues. Public health issues. Juvenile delinquency. Housing issues. Public safety
issues and education issues. And there
were no nonprofit organizations to help.
There was no social safety net. There was
no New Deal. None of that existed. That’s
why United Way was originally created.
Today the world is going through as
dramatic an economic transformation as it
did during industrialization. Globalization
has changed the way people earn money. It
has created income gaps in the U.S. It has
put more pressure on the services we fund,
which means that all the systems that we
created for a national industrial economy
have to change. We’ve got to deal with jobs-based education. Jobs-based training. We
try to help communities identify their biggest issues that have come out of economic
transformation in order to make sure that
we help address those problems so that
people can succeed in today’s economy.
The biggest shift since I’ve been here
has been changing our mission from a
fundraising federation to a social change
organization—a community impact organization—where we help communities
define the issues that they face and address
Brian Gallagher chats with students in
Mexico City in 2016 during a visit to a school
supported by the local United Way.
Safety net United Way helps people in your town and
around the world
BY WILL FIFIELD
them together. We fight for the health, edu-
cation and financial stability of every per-
son in every community. And you’ve got to
do that together. That is a huge shift for us.
CC: Can you point out some of the
changes you are especially proud of
during your tenure?
BG: Yes. First, we have embraced the need
to be completely transparent in our operations. Accountability, 10, 15 or 20 years
ago, was having a good group of volunteer
oversight folks and good staff folks, and
you would trust them to do the right kind
of work. Well, with the access to information that everybody has today, the best
way to assure transparency or accountability is to be completely transparent.
And we’ve rewritten all of our membership
requirements, governance requirements
and licensing agreements for local United
Ways, and we’re completely accountable
and transparent in everything we do in our
operations. I’m very proud of that, because
it’s being accountable to the public now,
not just regulators.
Second, we are the world’s largest privately funded nonprofit. I’m proud of my
colleagues, because we define our success
by how many young kids are ready for
school and kindergarten, are reading at
grade level in third grade, are graduating
from high school, and how many people are
financially stable and have access to health
care. I’m very proud of the fact that we
made that shift back to human beings and
didn’t stay focused just on money.
United Way began in Denver, Colorado, in 1887, when key commu- nity members recog- nized the need to work together in new ways to
make their city a better place through
social safety nets. Today, the organization is engaged in nearly 1,800 communities across more than 40 countries
and territories worldwide. Its purpose
is to create community-based solutions
to problems in the areas of health, education and financial stability.
According to Brian Gallagher, president and CEO of United Way Worldwide,
the organization affects millions of lives
each year. Gallagher should know—he’s
been working with United Way since
1981. “Forever,” he jokes. “I started as a
management trainee right out of undergraduate school,” he tells The Connection
by phone from his office in Alexandria,
Virginia. “I worked for five local United
Ways before I became the U. S. president
in 2002 and the worldwide president in
2009. My undergraduate degree is in
social work. My master’s is in business.
I’ve been doing this my entire career.”
Here, Gallagher discusses the
changes he’s seen in the organization
during his career and how United Way
is expanding its impact across the U.S.
and around the world.