By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: While we focus on our work in the community and rarely shine a spotlight on ourselves, this series is designed to put faces and names to the great and challenging work United Way does every day.
Tanzie Adams brings the expertise of an attorney, foundation director and head of community affairs, so hiring her 12 years ago made perfect sense to Neil Bloomberg, Director of Campaign Operations & Annual Campaigns at United Way of Greater Cleveland.
Bloomberg remembers when he interviewed Adams, who was transitioning into the nonprofit sector from a position at the Illuminating Company. He asked her why she was transferring out of a high-paying corporate position and applying to United Way of Greater Cleveland.
Her answer, he said, was she was worried less about money and more about finding meaning in her work.
“She is one of the best fundraisers I’ve seen in all my time here,” Bloomberg said. “She’s incredibly intelligent, she gets the job done. She’s quirky, but committed to doing the right thing and is always going above and beyond.”
After more than a decade working together, Bloomberg has come to rely on Adams.
“She’s a constant sounding board and confidant and she takes her job very seriously,” he said. “But she’s not an overly serious person, which makes it fun and enjoyable to work with and be around her.”
Adams started her career in residential sales at the Illuminating Company before being promoted to manager of Community Affairs. After a corporate merger, she moved to FirstEnergy to develop and manage FirstEnergy’s Foundation’s philanthropic program for all of its operating companies.
At the Illuminating Company, Adams and her staff started corporate volunteerism, earning the “C” Flag award from the President of the United States. Presented in the White House Rose Garden, it awards private sector organizations for their charitable initiatives.
Bob Farling, President & CEO of Centerior Company, was a United Way campaign chair and the company was committed to support the community through United Way.
Adams said she and her team were responsible for staffing him and other executives also involved with United Way. Through that, she became familiar with United Way of Greater Cleveland’s work and, after a short stint as a private practice attorney, moved to United Way of Greater Cleveland in 2004.
“Being the director of community affairs and trying to engage our employees, I was staff to the president and when he got involved with nonprofits, I would be the person behind the scenes to assist,” she said.
Now, her job consists of developing and maintaining relationships with donors in the Philanthropist Society — those who give $10,000 and above. The group is affiliated with United Way Worldwide’s national Tocqueville Society.
Last year, Adams worked with 29 volunteers, raising $8.2 million from 344 donors, including 44 new donors. This year, Adams is working on a new step-up strategy to engage new donors.
Accountable for the funds donated by the Philanthropist Society, Adams works closely with Jane Borgmann, director of pledge accounting, and her department to keep updated records on donors and resolve any charitable disputes.
Borgmann has worked at United Way of Greater Cleveland for 36 years and has been working with Adams since her hiring in 2004.
“I love working with Tanzie because she understands both sides of any issue or question,” Borgmann said. “And if she doesn’t understand, she asks, she wants to know. She’s very concerned about accuracy and having the data correct in our fundraising database.”
Maintaining her relationships with donors in the Philanthropist Society is a great asset to United Way of Greater Cleveland, Borgmann said.
“She knows her people,” she said. “They expect and receive a high level of service and she’s a great one to provide that … She offers to resolve an issue, and she’s not afraid to pick up the phone and talk to whoever she needs to resolve an issue or to meet their expectations or smooth ruffled feathers.”
Both sides of the industry
While promoting volunteerism and philanthropy in the corporate spaces she interacts with, Adams has made a commitment to it in her personal life as well. She has volunteered on several nonprofit boards, including her favorite YMCA.
“Illuminating Company wanted to make sure that, while I was responsible for helping to give away millions of dollars, it was important that I learn how difficult it is for the other side to raise those dollars,” she said. “When you’re managing a corporate foundation, you are focused on supporting a variety of community needs based on corporate priorities. If you go out and volunteer and help raise funds for a nonprofit, you can actually see how difficult it is to raise money from the community.”
Adams is now working to help build United Way of Greater Cleveland’s legacy giving program, helping to educate donors about the benefits of making a planned gift to United Way of Greater Cleveland.
Adams and her team have developed a website with the help of Cresendo Interactive to offer the community and donors access to our newsletters and brochures and informational talks about charitable giving and building a legacy with United Way. They also offer a wills planning guide to help donors think through their personal plan.
“The fact that we have [President and CEO Augie Napoli] here, I’m very excited about the future of building a legacy — to help United Way help the community for the next 100 years,” she said. “It’s never too early to start to plan but … it can be too late.”