Childs, United Way prepare for agency’s 2021-22 campaign

Posted 9/23/21

PITTSBORO — Katie Childs’ transition from a supporting role at the United Way of Chatham County to its executive director came, in part, because she just didn’t know how to stay in her own …

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Childs, United Way prepare for agency’s 2021-22 campaign

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Dr. Jim Sink, left, the chairperson of the United Way of Chatham County's board of directors, poses with United Way staff, from left, Alane Coore, Shelley Smith and Katie Childs.
Dr. Jim Sink, left, the chairperson of the United Way of Chatham County's board of directors, poses with United Way staff, from left, Alane Coore, Shelley Smith and Katie Childs.
Photo courtesy of the United Way

PITTSBORO — Katie Childs’ transition from a supporting role at the United Way of Chatham County to its executive director came, in part, because she just didn’t know how to stay in her own lane.

She was hired five years ago in an annual campaign support position, performing tasks such as stuffing envelopes and writing campaign letters. But since the organization’s staff was small, she said, “Everyone just did the job that needed to be done.”

Childs, now 31, initially worked with volunteers and donors in the annual effort to raise funds — more than $600,000 annually from the community — to be allocated and distributed among a dozen-plus nonprofits the United Way supports in Chatham, including the Boys & Girls Clubs, Communities In Schools, Chatham 4-H and Chatham Cares Pharmacy.

The United Way, though, is more than just its annual campaign — which gave Childs, in her new job, an opportunity to take on additional responsibilities over time.

“I’ve always had a passion for nonprofit work,” she said, “so getting experience across the board in terms of fundraising, working with volunteers and having relationships with donors and businesses and the government aspect of things has always been something I’ve wanted to be heavily involved in. I never wanted to do just ‘stay-in-my-lane’ kind of nonprofit work. I don’t even know if that exists, because in nonprofits everyone does everything.”

When then-executive director Dina Reynolds stepped down a little over a year ago — Reynolds now works as director of development at Chatham Trades, a United Way-funded agency — Childs, a native of Ohio, moved into the interim role. The timing wasn’t ideal. The COVID pandemic was raging, Childs was pregnant, her husband was in the middle of a job relocation, and the daycare the couple’s 2-year-old was in closed.

“But I knew professionally that this was what I wanted,” she said. “So I said, ‘I’ll step in, in this interim capacity, and we’ll figure it out.’ I’ve at least got the knowledge of the organization. And I know who our partners are, who we can work with and continue to do good in Chatham County — even though everything as we know it is up in the air.”

Childs’ interim title was removed last fall, and as another fall begins, she’s developing a vision for what she sees the agency, bolstered by Chatham’s coming population and business growth, becoming.

In its 36th year

But it doesn’t mean she and her staff — Outreach Coordinator Shelley Smith and Finance Officer/Volunteer Center Coordinator Alane Coore — aren’t busy now. To the contrary: the organization’s second annual “Day of Service” (it was a program Childs launched here, based on the United Way’s national effort) was held last week. A virtual art auction, featuring works by painter Karen Meredith and benefiting the agency, just wrapped up, raising more than $12,000. And the staff is working with a few dozen volunteer leaders on the main thrust of the United Way year, the 2021-22 annual campaign — which continues next week with a employee event Sept. 30 at Chatham Hospital.

This is the Chatham United Way’s 36th year raising funds for its member nonprofit agencies locally. The bulk of the outreach work to individuals (more than 10,000 support request envelopes will be mailed to household in Chatham in the first week of October), business and industry happens between now and the start of the year. A lengthy allocations process then starts; throughout that, volunteers review funding applications and financial statements of the nonprofits requesting funds, as well as meet with leadership at each to drill down on operational and outside funding questions. That wraps up with funding letters sent to qualifying agencies in June; around $360,000 will be divvied up among them at that point.

In the meantime, in the first half of next year, Childs and the staff and board will hold a series of strategic planning sessions for the United Way to look at operational challenges and changes and think long-term about how the agency can better serve those nonprofits which, in turn, serve those in need in Chatham County.

The outreach focus will continue to address areas of greatest need in Chatham County. COVID has complicated that, but by using 2-1-1 data — 2-1-1 is a statewide information and referral service; callers dialing 2-1-1 can obtain confidential information on health and human services within their community, 24/7 — from Chatham residents, Childs and her staff can pinpoint critical problem areas.

“The most pressing needs in our community right now are housing and homelessness, and this gap that’s been created in K-12 education as a result of online learning over the course of the past year,” she said. “I don’t say that to disparage any of the teachers or students who did online learning last year; it was just hard. We had people in our office trying to home-school their kids while also working, and that’s coming from a family with full support, with two parents in the home.”

This also includes callers who have reached out to the United Way from their cars — where they’ve been sleeping because they’re lost a place to live.

COVID’s impact

Within the last year, COVID-related grants and a special additional campaign funded by individual Chatham donors allowed the United Way to disperse an additional $100,000 in one-time, issue-based assistance to local nonprofits.

Today, COVID is still impacting the United Way. Calls to the agency from the homeless and the hurting come regularly. Adding to the challenge, on the eve of campaign season, is knowledge that some regular United Way-supporting individuals and businesses have either relocated or pulled back on planned giving in this year’s campaign.

“So we have a lot of ground to cover,” Childs said. “Any my plea to Chatham County is that if we can’t meet our goal this year” — $645,000 — “I don’t want the nonprofits in Chatham County to suffer as the result of that. If we don’t raise the money, we can’t give the money. So we have a lot of work ahead of us. I think we can do it. And I think that this community is one which cares deeply. They’ve shown time and time again, that they truly are passionate about philanthropy in Chatham County and philanthropy through United Way. But it’s going to be an uphill battle for us this year.”

New agencies scheduled to get United Way funding this coming year include Second Bloom of Pittsboro, which provides support and resources for survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual assault in Chatham County, and Chatham County NC Homeless Shelters of Siler City.

What makes the United Way an ideal philanthropic beneficiary to help them, she says, is that funds donated go to agencies fully vested by the agency’s board and a team of community leader-volunteers.

“We make sure that we are not investing in duplicated services or in agencies that are not stable or in programs that aren’t making an impact,” Childs said. “What I would say to donors in Chatham County is that if you’re looking to make a difference, to make an impact, to make sure that your money is going to the most viable organization, then give through United Way, and we will be sure of that.”

Childs is quick to credit Smith and Coore for their work, and her board’s support, as they endeavor to help grow the United Way’s reach.

“And at the end of the day, the people in our community really believe in us and trust us with their money,” she said.

As Childs looks ahead, she says a near-term goal, as Chatham grows, would be for the United Way of Chatham County’s annual campaign to reach $1 million in total donations.

“I think it’s really feasible,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy, and I don’t anticipate it’s going to be quick. But I think that with some real energy, some real planning and some real thought, we can be a million-dollar organization — which means we can increase the allocations to the agencies, which at the end of the day means that Chatham County is just better taken care of.

“That’s something that I work really hard not to lose sight of — you know, the reason why I’m doing this. It’s not so that I can say, ‘Oh, yeah, we raised a million dollars.’ That’s not at all the thing that gets me up every morning to go to work. It’s the people who call our office and say, ‘I’m sleeping in my car with my children.’ Those are the people I think of when I’m sending out a mailing. There will always be people who fall on hard times. We can be the people who help them, to pick them up.”


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