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  • Local United Ways Merge Capital Area United Way’s regional strategy is a win for tri-county residents

Local United Ways Merge Capital Area United Way’s regional strategy is a win for tri-county residents

Two well-established United Ways in mid-Michigan consolidated operations, effective April 1, to improve the wellbeing of individuals and families in the tri-county region.

The boards of directors of Capital Area United Way (CAUW) and Eaton County United Way (ECUW) voted to merge on March 21, 2017. The combined entity will use the existing name “Capital Area United Way” and will serve the entire geographic region of Eaton, Clinton and Ingham counties.

At a press conference on March 22 announcing the news, CAUW Board Chair, Dorothy E. Maxwell, shared the importance of the merger to the region, especially with the two organizations so firmly rooted in mid-Michigan. ECUW has served the lower southwestern corner of Eaton County for 40 years, while the CAUW has served Lansing and the rest of the tri-county area for the past 98 years.

“Since the mid-2000s, the two United Ways shared ideas and resources and have entertained discussions about merging but the timing was not right. Finally, in the last six months, our boards have been planning together this merger and have reached this milestone,” said Maxwell.

Last fall, CAUW’s President and CEO, Teresa Kmetz was having a conversation with ECUW’s Executive Director, Joni Risner; during which she indicated that their board may be willing to engage in a conversation about consolidation. The two organizations quickly put together a consolidation committee that included two board members from each board, as well as the two executives who then worked through a number of issues.

“We had the good fortune of having David Donovan, a management consultant with the Donovan Company, facilitate the merger, which was seamless and good for all parties,” said Kmetz. “While the two boards quickly found this was the route to go, we wanted to take more time to bring along our community partners.”

United Way generally promotes the collaboration of local resources as a best practice in nonprofit effectiveness and this consolidation demonstrates a commitment to that philosophy.

Bob Tresize, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, added during the event, “how this merger strengthens the whole capital area, as we put people first.”

Tresize emphasized that many sectors in the tri-county have demonstrated significant success with a coordinated, regional approach in recent years, including economic development, business, arts and culture, health care and even education.

“The Lansing region has unique assets that allow us to compete on a global stage,” said Tresize. “We have a Big Ten university, we are the capital city, we have Fortune 500 companies. We are positioned to soar and do great in that global economy. Our diversity is a major asset for us. We speak 60 languages and, I believe, we are the fourth largest refugee center in America. Making all of these connections from the United Way in the fabric of our community, right through to economic development, up to politics, all has to work better together.”

Among the many benefits to residents and the community, a combined CAUW will provide a single grant-making process for funding programs that demonstrate the ability to solve key community issues identified by the United Way. Additionally, corporate and individual investors will have a single, streamlined fundraising organization, a robust Volunteer Center and more focused opportunities to engage the local communities.

“We’ll have a lot more opportunities in the outlying areas of Eaton County and southern Ingham County because we are able to have a staff member focused on community engagement, which will be Joni Risner,” explained Kmetz. “Her sole focus will be working to help connect the United Way to local communities, helping the United Way learn about what’s happening on the ground in these areas while promoting volunteerism and making sure that everyone knows about and utilizes our 2-1-1 helpline.”

As of April 1, Risner’s new title will be vice president of community outreach and Engagement for the CAUW. She will continue working out of the ECUW’s current Charlotte office, in addition to the Lansing-based location.

“The region will have a United Way connection available at most community functions, meetings and events in the outlying areas,” said Risner. “It will be exciting for the programs and agencies that serve our vulnerable populations because they’ll have someone in their space all the time. We want to make sure every person in the tri-county area has the resources available they need. We all recognize that our rural areas need as much or more assistance than within the urban areas.”

The new board of directors will include representatives from both organizations and will refine its strategic focus based on tri-county data, individual surveys and dozens of community conversations as mentioned in the organization’s press release announcing the merger. Specific goals are expected to be announced in spring 2017 and will determine the focus of CAUW’s future initiatives and funding.

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