We’re not your grandfather’s United Way.

One of the largest challenges United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s staff members face is explaining that what people think they know about our organization may not be the case.

Thirty years ago, when many of “our parents” were in the workforce, their companies would run a United Way campaign and employees would have the opportunity to choose which charities they wanted to donate to through the ease of payroll deduction.

And while some of the basic operations of United Way remain the same – offering employees the opportunity to give back to their community through small payroll deductions that add up to a large contribution – much more of our work has changed.

For instance, our data-driven, results-focused work allows donors the opportunity to confidently invest their dollars in United Way's general fund, ensuring that the impact we create in our community is larger than ever, because United Way’s Community Impact team of staff members and volunteers is able to identify the greatest long-term needs of the community and then leverage various resources, including donor dollars, to meet those needs.

But as “our parents” get older and begin to leave the workforce, and young professionals now live in a society with thousands of causes and charities competing for their attention and their dollars, how do we at United Way ensure that we stay relevant and continue to engage the workforce, as the primary source of our impact revenue?

We’ve begun to do this in many ways already.

First, in employee presentations we talk about the data that drives our work and the collective impact we are able to create through funding, collaborating and partnering with various nonprofit, government, educational and community institutions throughout our seven-parish area. We explain that a gift to United Way is not only to the agencies and issues the donor cares about, but a system of accountability to ensure that our donors’ dollars are being used the best way possible.

Next, we deepen the engagement of individuals in our work, through both volunteerism and advocacy. Utilizing the incredible staff of United Way’s HandsOn Volunteer Center, individuals are placed in the field with our nonprofit partner agencies, schools and community development organizations that need sweat equity to achieve their goals just as much as they need funding.

And through United Way’s advocacy efforts, donors can lend their voice to create significant public policy change that can achieve so much more impact than our organization could ever reach by simply raising $14-16 million each year. To see what can really be changed when individuals lend their voice and advocate on behalf of those who are unable, please click here.

But this is only the beginning. In order to continue our “reign” as one of the most successful and impactful health and human service organizations in our region, we have to ensure that the next generation of donors is fully knowledgeable and invested in the work we are doing. We realize that not only does United Way need to educate donors about the multi-dimensional work we were doing to create systematic community impact, and offer a variety of engagement opportunities, but we also have to listen carefully to the young professionals in our community to hear what their personal aspirations are and how they want to personally contribute to their region.

And thus, our Young Leaders Movement was formed.

Over the last five months United Way has recruited a variety of young professionals in our area to sit in on focus groups and participate in the creation of a donor network that was not only different than any other in the region, but also worthy of spending their valuable time and money.

The group is diverse in many ways. Many young professionals are employed at companies that run an annual workplace campaign, and many are not. Some are currently involved in other nonprofit and civic organizations that are trying to create an impact and some have never been engaged in philanthropy before this point. Their salaries, ages, birthplaces and backgrounds all differ, but their needs are all the same. They have a personal need to invest either their time, talent or treasure into something that will make a tangible impact on the lives of others, thereby strengthening the community that they love.

To learn about the outcomes of these focus group meetings and to see the direction in which the Young Leaders Movement is heading, especially as it related to leadership, volunteerism and mentorship opportunities for those involved in YLM, please visit this page on our website.

United Way is on a road to transformation on many levels, and we want everyone along for the ride.