October 4, 1999
Volume 52, No. 7
Larry Minnix likes his ham and eggs the United Way
OK, I admit it. The purpose of this article is pick your pocket for the United Way. Please don't stop reading here. Finish the article, then decide.
I don't know about you, but I lived for years in this community without giving to the United Way. I gave to my church, Wesley Woods, Emory, March of Dimes. It wasn't that I was stingy; I just didn't give to the United Way. I figured other people ought to do that-people who work but don't go to church, for example.
When I became CEO of Wesley Woods, I resisted a corporate United Way campaign. After all, Wesley Woods has to raise money.
But a couple of staff "do-gooders" pestered me about it. I relented, just to get them to be quiet about it. But that first campaign went well. It was easy. These do-gooders hit me up for a "lead gift," so I chipped in 10 bucks per pay period. I thought that was pretty good. I shouldn't stretch myself too thin.
The United Way campaign caught on at Wesley Woods. The do-gooders made it fun. They conned me into giving more personally. Wesley Woods won an award for having a big increase a few years ago. Our name was in the newspapers. I was at least going through the motions, even taking credit for an award that the do-gooders had won. I was involved but not invested. You know the parable of the ham and eggs breakfast: the chicken is involved, the pig is invested.
Then came my investment experience a couple of years ago. A United Way speaker who directs a program on teen suicide came to Wesley Woods. I recognized her; over a decade ago, the child of a colleague killed himself, and this same individual visited Wesley Woods and that child's school to help all parties work through that tragedy. It hit me: That's the United Way at work in my life.
Soon I discovered that organizations supported by the United Way helped some of our employees learn to read. Another helped employees who lost homes in a tornado. The United Way was at work through meals on wheels, home health care, nursing home care and child care-helping people I care about.
Perhaps you can see my pattern of investment. I had progressed from disinterest and excuses to acquiescence to enlightened self-interest--but that's not investment yet.
Investment began last year. It was precipitated by the fact that Mike Johns chaired the health care segment of the 1998 United Way campaign, which I chair this year. He asked me to be responsible for soliciting long-term care organizations, and Bill Chace made it a priority.
Emory's own Johnnetta Cole has a United Way giving category named for her: "The Johnnetta Cole Society." Since Wesley Woods had recently become a part of Emory-meaning Johns, Chace, et al, were my new bosses--and I couldn't let Johnnetta down, I began to really see the light. (I may be slow, but my momma didn't raise no fool).
Our senior staff gave generously, which meant I had to up my ante. Now I'm part of the Johnnetta Cole Society. I'm invited to tea parties with the big pooh-bahs at this level of giving, and you haven't lived till you've been to a Johnnetta Cole tea party.
But I found that, by giving more, I took the trouble to learn more about the United Way: Where's my money going? Why should I really give? What good does it do? The soul searching began.
I learned that the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta provides grants to nearly 200 not-for-profit organizations that do the tough work of addressing the most difficult social problems: abuse, crime prevention, substance abuse, illiteracy. The United Way focuses on every population segment: young, old, people with disabilities, refugees, all racial groups. It has a direct effect on hundreds of thousands of lives and an indirect impact on all of us. I learned that these organizations depend on philanthropy. And, for many, the United Way is the difference between providing a needed service and going out of business.
I learned that numerous organizations I know are supported by United Way-Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, YMCA, Visiting Nurse Health System, Jewish Family and Career Services, Senior Connections-but there are dozens I had never heard of: Sickle Cell Foundation, Latin American Association, Atlanta Children's Shelter, Africa Children's Fund.
I learned that the United Way has a thorough process involving hundreds of citizens who help determine community need, and the United Way screens grantees to make sure our dollars are well spent. I learned that the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta is well governed and managed.
I learned that the United Way is addressing root causes of long-term problems. Jerry Hassebrook of Andersen Consulting is the 1999 campaign chair. He announced at Atlanta Rotary that a "partnership" is being developed between the United Way, the Whitehead Foundation and the state of Georgia to expand and strengthen infant and early child care programs. Why? Because research has shown that good prenatal care and early childhood stimulation are significant keys to healthy brain development. Lack of stimulation for infants and toddlers leads to irreparable underdevelopment of the brain. The long term results are believed to be linked with crime, limited educational capacity, unemployment--all the dynamics that make our community unsafe and unhealthy.
The goal of this partnership is to create as many as 20,000 new infant and child care placements. This means that more working mothers and fathers can be assured that their babies and toddlers are receiving the healthy attention they need and deserve.
Peter Drucker, well-known management guru, wrote a book about the unique role of not-for-profit, philanthropic organizations in America. He said our society has three fundamental institutions: business, government and not-for-profits. The role of business is to generate goods, jobs and money. The role of government is to provide defense, oversight and order.
The role of the not-for-profit is to change lives. That is what the United Way does! Perhaps your life is an example. Mine was changed by the lady who addresses teen suicide; she made me vigilant to the concerns of my kids and their friends.
The Emory family needs to give more to the United Way. We are perceived in our community as well blessed, and we are. But we are not leaders yet in our giving. It is not only in our enlightened self-interest to be generous, but we owe it to Atlanta, now and in the future. After all, Emory's mission is ultimately to change lives. We can't do our job without the United Way, and vice versa.
Whip out that checkbook, or give through payroll deduction. No gift is too small or too large. The important thing is that we all give--because we all receive.
Now, I'm invested--passionate about the United Way. I upped my gift this year again. Johnnetta, invite me to another tea party!
Larry Minnix is CEO of Wesley Woods.