“It’s very difficult to explain the United Way in an elevator speech,” said Jeannine Truswell, president and chief executive of United Way of Weld County.
“Some nonprofits may have one special focus, service or client concentration,” she said. In contrast, United Way focuses on a broad spectrum and the big picture: bringing people and resources together. Its areas of interest are education, income, health and helping people meet their basic needs.
With an eye to long-term solutions, United Way helps human-services programs meet immediate needs so individuals and communities can prosper.
Definitely not an elevator speech.
As leader of Weld County’s United Way, Truswell is responsible for overall supervision including resource development, resource investment, financial management, volunteer management, marketing and communications, program development and community building.
Likewise, not an elevator speech.
“People have a misunderstanding that United Way is one big organization, but actually each one is local. Money raised locally stays locally,” Truswell said. “As a result, many people don’t think their $25 gift makes a difference in their community, and that’s not at all true.”
With 30 years of experience in nonprofit management and a majority of those years with United Way, Truswell easily engages people with the organization’s mission.
For example, the Promises for Children program is a community partnership dedicated to improving the wellbeing of all children in Weld County by making sure early-childhood care, health and school readiness is addressed.
“We worked to empower parents and get all players working together on it as a community project,” Truswell said. “That’s a lot of our role – to bring people together to create collaborative efforts.”
When the 2013 floods hit, Truswell was in Florida, but still spent 16 hours a day on the phone and computer, working to get the help Weld County was so desperately needing.
“For Weld County, some of our most vulnerable communities were hit hard,” she said.
United Way was in the middle of its annual fund drive, and Truswell knew that reaching out for immediate financial help would likely displace the annual funds people were targeting for it. She made sure financial requests didn’t put donors in a position of choosing which nonprofit to support and instead inspired them to band together to support the community.
Through partnering with the Community Foundation Serving Greeley and Weld County, the organizations were able to accomplish more than either would have been able to do separately.
The collaborative effort created a relief fund and established a community board to oversee fund solicitation and awards. It brought in more than $1 million and began assisting displaced individuals and families far ahead of governmental systems.
Truswell stressed that it takes more than one person to make things happen – it takes multiple services to move people to become self-sustaining.
“And that’s who I am and what I believe in, too,” she said. “My values play through United Way.
“It’s not always that a person’s passion can be coupled with their livelihood,” she added. “I realized I’m blessed. It’s not really a job. It’s my life, and I know that not everyone gets to do that.”