“Civil Society” – State of Human Services


>>Hello. I’m Barry Silverberg,
Director of the Center for Nonprofit Studies at
Austin Community College, and this is Civil
Society, a periodic podcast to provoke more thinking about issues effecting nonprofit
effectiveness and success. My guest, today, is David Smith, CEO of the United Way
for Greater Austin. For over 20 years, David
has been in the forefront of reaching out to diverse
parts of the community to collaboratively
find solutions that create real impact. That commitment is evident in
David’s 11 year role as founder and executive director of
Hill Country Ride for AIDS. Concurrently, he founded
and led Mamma Jamma Ride for Breast Cancer for 4 years. The Hill Country Ride grew
to be the second largest for AIDS in the country. Not to be outdone by
himself, he grew Mamma Jamma to be the largest ride for
breast cancer in this country. He gave all that up for
the slings and arrows of leading the United Way. Welcome, David.>>Thank you, Barry.>>So, my first question is, you’ve led several successful
organizations, as just noted.>>Mm hmm.>>Whay did you leave that
for what is, certainly, a very complex and
sometimes difficult job?>>Yeah, yeah, great question. Well, I got to the point,
with both of those rides, where I felt like I’d
done what I could do, and really believed
they needed new energy, and new ideas, and new blood. And I think that that was right. The two people running both of those rides right now
are doing a fantastic job. And, so, it’s fun to see
those go on to be a success. But more than anything, why
United Way, I really believe in the collective impact model. And I’ve, I truly believe
that we can do more together. And, so, while my path
is a little unorthodox, everything I did leading up to
United Way was collaborative. And, so, in the interview, in my
first interview with United Way, I said, if you’re interested
in someone to come in and redo the United Way
brand, I’m not your person, because I’m not a
United Way guy. But, if you want someone
who is willing to work hard and bring people together,
and the community together, around these really
important issues, I’m all in. And I thought I was
talking myself out of a job, but maybe nobody else applied.>>It remains to see what
the joke is really on.>>That’s right. That’s right. Exactly. But, I really
do believe. And, you know, we’ve got
more nonprofits per capita than any other city
in the country. And, so, we need an organization
to pull the community together, to pull those services
together, to find and discover, and create, ways that we
can be more efficient, ways that we can
collaborate in meaningful ways where services are delivered in
a more efficient and better way. So, I’m, I am a United
Way guy, now, because I believe in the model.>>All right.>>Yeah.>>So, your focus
has been on diversity and inclusion throughout
your career.>>Mm hmm. Mm hmm.>>How are you bringing
that to the United Way at the current time?>>Yeah. Great question. I’d say it’s almost
built into who we are. So, just, you, our United
Way, certainly, and, I think, many United Ways across
the country have evolved over the years as philanthropy
has evolved, and the emergence of the internet, and
there’s so many things. But, really, what is
foundational, is that we, our mission is to bring people,
ideas, and resources together to fight poverty
in our community. But, if you, there are
few organizations who, that our whole existence is
to bring people together who, otherwise, may not
come together. So we’re bringing together civic
and government organizations, corporations, and so, the
corporate community, nonprofits, individuals, foundations,
to come together and meet each other, and talk
about what are our common goals and aspirations, and how can
we make those happen, together. And, so, you know, I think
that we’re putting people in the same room, many,
many times who, otherwise, wouldn’t be in the
same room together, trying to find solutions
to really big problems.>>So, in many ways,
you’re just checking out as, you’re serving a
role as a convener?>>Yeah, yeah, in a lot of ways.>>And, I recall
many, many years ago, United Way posited itself as the
major planner for the community.>>Right.>>Is that a role that you
see United Way continuing?>>I do, definitely. Yeah. So, there’s a good example
that is older, so 10 years old, and that is success by 6, so
early childhood education work. Sue Carpenter, who is our
chief programs officer.>>A super lady.>>What’s that?>>Super lady.>>Oh, a fantastic woman. Just, I could not
be more honored to work with her every day. And I learn something
from her every day. She’s brilliant. She really galvanized
the community around early childhood,
because she saw that, you know, for social service intervention,
it probably has the best ROI, the best return on investment,
and she also saw that, while we invest in
so many significant and important things, there’s
nothing that we can invest in that’s more valuable
than our kids. And, especially in those
most formative years. 90% of our brain is forming
in those first 5 years. And, so, that’s a great example
of Sue and her team convening, 10 years ago, but
continuing to convene. It’s still going on.>>Yeah.>>The community around that. And, more recently, we’re
convening around 2 gens, so the Aspen Institute
asked United Way, knowing that we were really
the backbone organization that could handle this,
to convene the community around our 2 gen approach,
which is wrapping services around the whole
family, so 2 generation. So, while we’re making sure
those kids get quality, early childhood education, at
the same time, we’re working with the parents, or
parent, to make sure that they have the
education, and skills, and training they
need to have a job, and to have financial stability, so that these kids don’t get
quality care and an education and go home to a house
where they have to move for the third time in 6 months, or where the utilities
have been shut off.>>Yeah.>>And, so, by working
with both generations, it really breaks the
cycle of poverty. And that’s a newer area where we’re convening
that’s really exciting, and we’re putting a
lot of focus on that.>>And, the United Way does this
through its partner agencies?>>That’s exactly right.>>So, just really quickly, how many do you have,
what’s your campaign?>>Yeah.>>Just the facts, man.>>Yeah. Okay. Well, when you say partner
agencies, because I would think of both our nonprofit
partners, and I’d also think of our corporate partners. So, we’ve got, and that’s
again, I think an area where we’re convening.>>Right.>>So, gosh, we’ve probably
got about 50 nonprofit partners where we’re investing. And then we’ve got over
200 corporate partners.>>That’s fantastic.>>That are, have campaigns
or are involved in some way. Yeah, it’s exciting.>>So, your primary
focus, which as you said, has evolved over the
years, is on poverty.>>That’s right.>>What happens to other issues?>>Yeah, good question. Well, we, as I just mentioned,
Austin has more than its share of nonprofit organizations,
so you know, for the causes that aren’t centered
around poverty, so pets, I’ll just throw that out. I love dogs. I’m a big pet person,
but we’re not in that business at United Way. And I think that was
part of, when I started, BCG led us through a fantastic
strategic planning process. Could not be more
grateful for that. The process was significant,
and beyond our expectations. The product from that
strategic plan is the same. It’s a map to achieve where
we know we want to be. And, we had to say,
okay, this is who we are, which means we had to
let go of some things. So that’s part of the
shift, I think, you see, really nationally, but
especially here in Austin, where United Way is not
just an intermediary where we are a benevolent
funder, where people say, but we are actually
strategically investing in strategies that work. And that’s how I would define
who we are, as United Way. We are investing donor dollars. We take everyone very
seriously, and strategies that we know that work. And our focus is poverty, and
there are a lot of reasons for that, that I’m sure
I’ll get to with you.>>Yeah. So, in terms
of poverty, there’s multiple
philosophies and approaches to dealing with poverty.>>Yeah. Mm hmm.>>We had the war on poverty,
which was an abysmal failure.>>Right.>>What is the overall
model of change that United Way is
bringing, or encouraging, to deal with poverty in Austin?>>That is a really
good question, and.>>I only ask good questions.>>So far, yeah, I
think your batting 100. I’ll let you know
if there’s a… [laughtr]>>Thank you. Thank you.>>I’ll tell you,
really honestly, I can’t, I can’t formulate, because
we’re getting there, but I can tell you
where we are right now.>>Right.>>And it will evolve, and it
will be more comprehensive. But, where we are right now,
is the belief that we want to meet immediate and urgent
needs, for basic needs, and that’s through our 2-1-1,
so that’s one of our pillars. So, 2-1-1, you literally pick
up your phone, dial 2-1-1, if you don’t know where
you’re going to sleep tonight, if you don’t have enough
food to feed your family, if you can’t pay
your utility bill. Any of the hundreds of
things people living in poverty deal with daily. So, they can pick up
the phone call 2-1-1, we will immediately
connect them with a service that can meet their need. That’s incredibly valuable
for someone who needs.>>Yeah.>>And I would ask, and invite,
anyone who wants to come listen in on 2-1-1 calls,
to please do it. It’s life changing, because
you’re hearing directly from that person who has an
immediate and urgent need.>>Yeah.>>And it’s, you know,
to hear that live voice, that’s the most important
call they’ll make, at least that day,
maybe in their life. And so, what’s just
as important, though, is the data we collect at 2-1-1. We see the emerging needs
happening in real time. So, before housing was an issue,
here, we were getting calls on housing years before, and we were informing
our elected officials, housing is a growing emerging
need among our populations. So that’s one, that’s really
meeting immediate basic needs. And, then, we’re investing
in 2 gen, so back to that. And that is just, again,
wrapping the whole family in services to make sure
that they’re covered. And, then, we’re investing
in long-term solutions, which we see as early
childhood, so success by 6. So, how we are going in, approaching the poverty
issue right now, is through those three pillars. One, immediate need, one
is, I would say, mid-term, like it’s shorter, but meeting
the needs of the whole family, and then that long term
investment in early childhood, where we may not reap the
rewards for another generation.>>Right.>>But, if we don’t do it, we will certainly suffer
those consequences.>>Right.>>And, I think we’re
seeing some of that, now.>>Sounds to me like
you have a plan.>>It’s a plan. It’s a plan. But we want to do more,
because there’s such a need, and we will do more, but
that’s where we are right now.>>Let me turn to another topic,
where United Way, perhaps is, but certainly could
be, a leader. And that is in the whole
question of diversity and inclusion in a
nonprofit sector itself. We’ve chatted about that.>>We have.>>Several occasions.>>Yeah.>>What, and just the
number of people of color, who are on boards of directors,
or even as executive directors in Austin, and nationally
is quite low, and almost scandalous.>>Right.>>So, what role, if any, do
you see the United Way can play in promoting that,
particularly given that you’re supporting
agencies, along with the funds, comes a bit of influence.>>It does, yeah. And, so I would say, we
leverage that influence. It’s not with a hammer,
but certainly, leverage that influence
to make sure that all of those organizations, every
single one that we invest, has a diversity inclusion
policy, and we make sure that that covers
the board, as well. I think another aspect of
that is, we need to model that ourselves, so our
board has diversity, and certainly our
staff has diversity. I would still say, not to the
level at which we would want. And I think that’s important. And, so, while we’re not going
to mandate a certain percentage or anything like that.>>Right.>>We do, though, offer them
access to board trainings, done by other organizations. So, again, we’re part of a
network of so many organizations in town who are doing
great work. And, so, leveraging
that to make sure that those organizations do. And, also, I think, just
elevating that conversation, never, not ever missing
an opportunity for that conversation to be part
of the dialogue that we need to be having, again,
at the corporate level, and at the nonprofit
level, at the civic level, and everywhere in between.>>Yeah. I think that’s
a major, major role.>>Me, too.>>Given the projection
as a convener, that you all can really.>>I do, too. We’re about to participate
in this Beyond Diversity.>>Good.>>Which, I have personally, but
some us from the United Way are. Yeah, I’m excited about it.>>So, along similar lines, regardless of where one stands
politically, I think it would be as true as any truth could be, that we’re living in
a divided society.>>Yes.>>We’re living in a society where civility is
on the decline.>>Mm hmm. Mm hmm.>>Is there a role
for the United Way, given it’s convening
role, to deal with some of the fundamental
issues of civil society?>>Absolutely. Yes. Absolutely. I see that, it almost,
again, goes back to our name. I see that as us
being that bridge. So, as I started here, 2 years
ago, and I started talking about poverty with people, I can’t tell you how many people
would kind of tilt their head, and say, there’s
poverty in Austin? And, you know, I think the
underlying, and common, foundation, that really
is under all of our work, and upholding all of our work,
is that we are, if not the one of the most economically
segregated cities in the entire country. And the tragedy of that, it’s
multilayered, but certainly one of them is, we stay
in our bubbles, and we stay in our
neighborhoods, and so we don’t know
that there is poverty. There’s drastic poverty
in Austin, not that far from where we’re all living. And so, I.>>Not far from your offices.>>That’s right. Very close to our offices. And, so, I do see that as a
major role and opportunity for the United Way to
lead that conversation, and to lead the community’s
openness and willingness to see who we really are as a city. We’re on the top of every
list, every national list of best place to live, best
place to start a business, best place to be married,
best place to be single, you name it, we’re
on every list. And, yet, there is
that underbelly, where not everyone
is part of that, and wouldn’t even recognize the
city at the top of that list.>>That’s right.>>And we’re only as good
as if everybody is enjoying that promise of Austin.>>Totally agree.>>And so that’s where, that’s
where, I think, we come in and have a real opportunity
to lead.>>Totally agree.>>Yeah.>>Let’s skip to a
different question.>>Okay.>>So, the nature of
philanthropy is changing.>>Yes.>>When you and I were younger,
the United Way was the way that most people gave both
for individuals and companies.>>Right.>>That’s changed. With foundations,
personal foundations, the millennials, etcetera. How is United Way adapting to those changes
while still being true to the better way
of giving model?>>Yeah. Great. So, I would say, and certainly,
I’m standing on the shoulders of many people who came
before me, and so I know that, and I know that every day, but I can only talk
about my experience.>>Right.>>And, that is, to focus on
the need in the community, rather than focus on who
are we as United Way. Meaning, we need
to be responsive and engaged in the community. If we’re doing that, who
we are as United Way, in that response,
we’ll be just fine. So, definitely the campaigns are
still a majority of our revenue.>>Right.>>And, you know,
it’s interesting, I’ve got a really great
team, Ray Blue, and his team, are leading the RD team,
and they are killing it, and actually campaigns
are growing. After a 13 year slide,
this will be the first year that we’ve seen uptake
in campaigns.>>Congratulations.>>And that’s exciting. Yeah. That’s something
to celebrate.>>Absolutely.>>At the same time, we
know we have to diversify, and we are diversifying. So, we have events
like Ruthless Good, where it’s a city
wide scavenger hunt, where while you’re
having fun with your team that you put together, whether
it’s a corporation, a family, your congregation, whatever
it is, you are also learning about the need in Austin, about some of what
we were just talking about with the economic
segregation. It’s a lot of fun. But, and then, you know,
individuals, foundations, the Michael and Sue Dell
foundations have been incredibly generous in investing
in our 2 gen work. So, we have to continue
to diversify. I think, maybe, the most
significant way we will diversify, and move beyond
just the campaign work, is we’re going to focus a
lot more on volunteerism. And that is in direct
response to this news that we’re the most
economically segregated city, is if we don’t know each other,
then we don’t even know how to respond to the needs. And, by connecting people, who otherwise may
never be connected, with meaningful volunteer
opportunities, where they are encountering
and introducing themselves and meeting people in
need, that, we believe, is going to change, not just
United Way, but change Austin.>>In some ways, that’s
a return to the roots.>>Right.>>A return to the
volunteerism of the United Way.>>Absolutely. Yeah.>>So, as a closing question.>>Yeah.>>If you’ll stroke
your wise and, whatever.>>Barely there beard.>>That’s right. What would you say to somebody
entering the nonprofit arena, okay, what is the top
lesson that you’ve learned?>>Mmm, wow. Another good question. I think, yeah, you’ve
added batted a hundred. There’s so many. Can I give you 2?>>Yeah, you can give me 2.>>Okay, I’ll give you 2.>>I’m feeling generous.>>Okay. Thank you. I would say, if you’re
starting out, always be true to your word. It will gain you a trust and
respect among your colleagues, that will last through, you’re
going to run into tough times, you’re going to run
into tough situations. Almost nothing is
black and white. You’re going to come
across tough situations. If you are true to your
word, and people trust and believe you, that will
carry you through all of those. And, then, I would say, don’t
be afraid to ask questions. I was so worried, starting
out, that if I asked a question that I was wondering
at the table, that people might think I
didn’t know what I was doing, which of course,
I probably didn’t, and in many ways, still don’t.>>But neither did they.>>Neither did they. And, you know, I wish we just, don’t be afraid to
ask questions. You’re probably not
the only one wondering. Yeah.>>Super. So, since you did
so well, one last question.>>Okay.>>Okay? So, which
is an obvious one. So, I’m a viewer, I’m a member
of the Austin community.>>Yeah.>>You mentioned that I could
make contact United Way to, kind of, listen on
the 2-1-1 calls.>>Yes.>>Which, I would think, would
be a phenomenal experience.>>Ah, please, yeah.>>What else besides
giving money, might I do to affiliate
myself with the United Way?>>Yeah, please, call us,
and let us know if you want to volunteer somewhere,
so we can connect you with meaningful volunteer
opportunities. Call us, and you can
volunteer at United Way. You can belong to any of our
affinity groups, Women United, the Young Leaders Society,
and that involves some giving. But, you can also be
involved in other ways. And, you know, we are a
backbone organization in town, and so I would say, anywhere
you get involved that’s involved in fighting poverty, we will
be involved in some way. So, just get engaged. That is, that, we’d love it
if it was through United Way, of course, but just get engaged. And, I think, you’ll find 1, how
many challenges our city has, but 2, we really do live
in such a great city, and we can only make it greater. So.>>Thank you, David.>>Thank you, Barry.>>You’re doing super, and
it sounds like you’re going to continue doing super.>>Thank you. It’s been fun. Thank you.>>Visit our website,
nonprofitaustin.org/civilsociety to read more about
the United Way, and the issues we’ve
discussed today, and share your comments
on today’s podcast. This is Barry Silverberg
with Civil Society, a Center for Nonprofit Studies
podcast, in collaboration with the fantastic
folks, here, at ACC TV. Thank you for joining us today. [ Music ]

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