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United Way of Greater Cleveland Reimagines its Future

Ralph J. Davila, APR
Director, News & Community Content
216-436-2205, c. 330-207-5167

CLEVELAND (July 2017) – July signals the start of the new fiscal year at many businesses and organizations. But few organizations launch their fiscal year by completely revamping the way they operate after more than a century in existence, like United Way of Greater Cleveland.

The 104-year-old nonprofit’s new fiscal year, commencing July 1, 2017, signals the implementation of fresh, new initiatives beginning with the investment of approximately $31 million in local health and human service programs and the execution of a renewed strategic plan, which focuses on expanding the organization’s fundraising model, creating greater social impact through collaboration, distributing funds more strategically and rebuilding the organization’s infrastructure.

A foundation for change driven by community

United Way began its journey to reinvention a little more than a year ago with the hiring of a new President and CEO, August A. Napoli. He would be the catalyst and change agent the organization required to move forward in a bold new direction.

After speaking with staff, volunteers and many others, as well as gauging the community members’ perception of United Way, he immediately began to assemble a team of executives, thought leaders and strategists to begin the development of a three-year strategic plan.

“We knew there would be many moving parts and an incredible amount of work and passion to make this plan actually come to fruition,” said Chairman of Oswald Companies and Chairman of the Board of United Way of Greater Cleveland, Marc Byrnes. “We are confident that we assembled the right people and resources at the right time to develop a plan that will change the course of United Way of Greater Cleveland for future generations.”

Dan Walsh, CEO, Citymark Capital LLC, was appointed chair of the Strategic Planning Committee, consisting of 30 board volunteers and staff members, to help lead the research, and planning process with Napoli.

Napoli also launched a Community Assessment, a data- and information-driven tool to help guide the organization and shape a significant portion of the strategic plan.

United Way’s last Community Assessment was completed three years ago. To develop the new assessment, the Community Impact department at United Way spent several months conducting 25 focus groups throughout the community; conducted two surveys spanning seven counties; executed two feedback forums; conducted 50 one-on-one interviews, and much more to prepare this body of academic work that would help steer the organization forward.

Napoli and the Strategic Planning Committee used this assessment, among many other pieces of data and information, such as that generated daily by United Way’s own 2-1-1 program, to craft a strategic plan that would change the way United Way operates, and philanthropy is viewed, throughout Northeast Ohio.

A new strategic plan unveiled, guiding United Way into the future

The three-year strategic plan was completed and approved by United Way’s board of directors at its June 28 board meeting. Implementation will begin this month. “We’ve taken bold steps to reinvent and reimagine United Way for the 21st century and it begins with our strategic plan,” Napoli said. “The strategic plan shaped a new vision, mission, values, guiding principles and goals for United Way centered around addressing community needs, engaging donors as individuals and positioning ourselves as the model of philanthropy in Northeast Ohio.”

Every area and department within the organization will be impacted by the four strategic goals — from Resource Development to Community Impact to Finance and Marketing.

Driven by the community’s needs and other key factors within health and human services, United Way is working towards building a more collaborative culture to achieve great social impact; change the way it fundraises and interacts with donors; expand transparency and integration of distributing resources into the community; and build high-performing teams and an infrastructure that can support even greater operational success.

A collaborative culture, impacting society

The one question many new organizations ask themselves is how will they succeed? That question is even more challenging for an organization more than 104 years old. It is only through rethinking the way the organization operates and interacts with the community and each other that continued success can be achieved.

The first step is to re-establish United Way’s role as a convener on the issue of poverty. United Way intends to bring together other organizations and leaders in this area to drive the organization’s agenda forward and tackle this issue. And, with a new public advocacy strategy, it will be better positioned to help those most in need.

“To really effect change socially, we will need to act as a convener, bringing together leaders and working together to solve problems,” said Napoli. “We estimate that more than 251,000 individuals are living in poverty throughout the United Way of Greater Cleveland footprint of Cuyahoga, Geauga and Medina counties; and with more than 137,000 in Greater Cleveland alone, we need to act and act now. At United Way, we believe in the philanthropic spirit. We believe that this spirit, if elevated, can ensure we reach our aggressive goals. When this occurs, and our partners and supporters align with this charge, we will be able to make an even more significant impact on those in need throughout the region.”

A change in fundraising, donor interaction

“Research shows donors want to be active in their philanthropy,” stated Napoli. As part of eliciting and activating people’s philanthropic desires, United Way is implementing a robust, donor-centric approach to engage individual, corporate and institutional stakeholders year-round to give their time, talent and treasure.

This move expands on the traditional workplace campaign, allowing the team at United Way to develop deeper relationships with individuals in and beyond the workplace — an important element in any successful fundraising campaign. They will also identify Greater Clevelanders who have the ability and passion to join with them to address the issue of poverty. The fundraising model will also undergo changes to better align with corporate partners’ corporate social responsibility and philanthropic goals.

“Approximately 1.5 million people live, work and play in our region,” said Napoli. “United Way traditionally reaches the 300,000 people who work here. As part of our strategic plan, United Way is redesigning our fundraising model with a new workplace campaign model and expanded crowdfunding initiatives, as well as principal and planned giving strategies. It’s all about tapping into the philanthropic passions within each of us to be the stewards of those in greatest need. It’s about the message, not the method.”

A forward-looking community distribution model

United Way has always used a data-driven approach to respond to community needs, allocate dollars to local health and human service programs and convene social service partners. The organization also collaborates with a network of agency service providers and volunteers to raise awareness and address key social issues around four key impact areas — education, financial stability, health and basic needs.

“We need to ensure there is even greater transparency and accountability in our funding to the community,” mentioned Napoli. “We have done a good job of allocating resources in the past, but it is time we take the process and procedures to a whole new level.”

As a result, greater collaboration is expected as United Way rolls out its Community Hub Model for allocation of funding to agencies throughout the region beginning July 2018. The model is designed to bring together organizations and people across various industries and geographic locations that best align in terms of the issues and challenges at hand. By aligning interests and intent, United Way and its partners will be better able to meet and exceed Greater Cleveland’s needs.

The shift in the allocations process via the Hub Model will provide greater transparency and collaboration, with a focus on developing long-term, problem-solving solutions by convening and fostering innovation.

A geographic growth, infrastructure enhancements

Beyond enhancing and reinvigorating the culture of philanthropy to drive the greatest social impact and focusing on a donor-centric approach with broader reaching giving initiatives, United Way is investing in the way it operates. A few ways the organization will strengthen its operations will include: focusing on advancing employee performance through the creation and implementation of knowledge and learning programs; modernizing and upgrading its IT and technological infrastructure; and fostering an inspired work culture through defining a shared purpose.

With those operational initiatives in place, United Way will be better able to expand its geographic footprint throughout Northeast Ohio by better integrating its partner United Ways — United Way Services of Geauga County and United Way of Medina County.

“I came on board with United Way a little more than one year ago,” added Napoli. “In many initial conversations, I heard members of our community explain their expectations of us. In many ways, the new strategic plan is a reintroduction of United Way to the community and how we can help them take ownership of their ability to give back to those in need and participate in the greatest gift of all… philanthropy.”



United Way of Greater Cleveland is committed to addressing the effects of poverty throughout our community. Through the work of our 115 funded programs and the generosity of our community, United Way strives to ensure families and individuals are healthy and financially stable; our children are well educated and on the road to reaching their greatest potential and even those carrying tremendous burdens are safe and provided with resources to become self sufficient. For more information, visit


Editor’s Note: A sold-out community forum will be held at the City Club on July 20 to publicly share the community assessment with stakeholders, donors, volunteers, public officials and many others. Please contact Ralph J. Davila, APR, for more information about attending, media information, one-on-one interviews, etc.

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