Woolman leads Weld County’s United Way
GREELEY — The board of directors at the United Way of Weld County purposely did not update the organization’s strategic plan.
First, response to the COVID-19 pandemic took precedence, and second, the leadership role was in transition.
Now that Melanie Woolman is the nonprofit’s president and chief executive officer, a position she’s held since Sept. 15, work can begin on what will be the three- or five-year plan, a process slated for 2023.
In the meantime, Woolman, who lives in Evans, will focus on the nonprofit’s four key programmatic areas to address some of the community’s key challenges and population level changes.
“When the community says we have challenges, the United Way is really the entity to solve that challenge,” Woolman said. “The United Way has stepped up time and time again to what our communities are telling us is what they need. It’s not always the case with every United Way. We are filling really key critical gaps in the community.”
The key programmatic areas focus on education and housing and are based on the stages of life. They start with Reading Great by 8 in the area of early childhood development, ensuring every child is ready for kindergarten and reading at grade level by fourth grade. Youth success, or Thrive by 25, focuses on connecting youth to caring adults to help them be more successful in school. Weld’s Way Home aims to provide household stability for those in situations of homelessness by connecting them to community resources, such as the food bank and health and human services. For older adults, the focus is on Aging Well in their communities, so they can stay in place or downsize to a smaller home or senior living facility, while also getting the services they need like transportation.
“The best way to describe it is I’m going to dig in and take the work to the next level,” Woolman said. “I want to make sure this work happens to really inspire generosity. We have so many generous, caring people in the community; it’s going to take all of us, parents, families, friends, caregivers … to make these big changes. United Way can’t do it alone.”
Woolman wants to encourage that generosity and get the community to work collaboratively at “Building a Better Weld County,” she said, referring to the agency’s tagline.
“We want to look at the numbers, the progress we made, the challenges we’ve overcome, the new challenges we’re facing, to inspire others to get involved in this work that matters so much,” Woolman said. “The number one way to do that is to know your numbers.”
Gathering the numbers and other data will help Woolman lead the way on updating United Way’s organization-wide strategic plan, laying out the direction for next steps alongside the organization’s annual mini-strategic plans.
“The board wanted the new president and CEO … to help drive that process and own the plan that’s going to be developed,” Woolman said. “One thing I know for certain is that the United Way is committed to the four focus areas … Beyond that, we will look at our internal programs and the work we need to do externally, how big we want to be as an organization and our fundraising goals, so we’re more invested in the community.”
The United Way received a large amount of federal funding to help Weld County address the impacts of the pandemic, but it will be difficult to replace a doubling of the organization’s revenue, Woolman said.
Some things identified in the strategic plan will be addressed right away and others will have a longer timeline, Woolman said. The organization will identify what it has the capacity to tackle and the capacity of the community to help, she said.
“We’ve got some big, hefty goals,” Woolman said. “United Way can’t do this work alone. We’re grateful for our community partners, nonprofit businesses, local government and municipalities. We intend to overcome all these hurdles together.”
The United Way has seen several successes over the past few years, such as the formation of the Northern Colorado Continuum of Care, a regional body tasked with ending homelessness in Weld and Larimer counties. Prior to 2020, federal funding was allocated to 56 counties outside metro Denver and Colorado Springs, requiring the different counties to compete for the same funding.
“That really doesn’t work,” Woolman said. “That’s a massive geography. We have different needs up here in Northern Colorado than Southeast Colorado or the Western Slope. It’s hard to do that level of planning.”
Other United Way successes include helping 500 households with flood recovery following the Big Thompson Flood, a 24-7 COVID response shelter for the most vulnerable populations, and support of child care providers during the pandemic.
“It’s important to me the community knows that we have challenges and that this will not be easy,” Woolman said. “I’m motivated to do it with people who care the most about this community. I am making progress on really meaningful, important goals.”
Woolman has wanted to work for nonprofits since she was in the sixth grade. She earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and international relations in 2014 from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.
Initially, Woolman figured she would use her degrees to work for an international NGO or nonprofit, but then, over time, realized she cares about what happens locally. She did a year of service through AmeriCorps for the United Way of Weld County and was hired in July 2015 onto the staff full time at the end of her service. She started out as a community impact coordinator, then director, followed by vice president of community impact before taking on her current position. In her latest role, she oversaw programming and direct services, as well as investments.
“From day one, Melanie demonstrated leadership, intelligence, skill and commitment,” said Jeannine Truswell, United Way’s outgoing CEO, who worked with Woolman for eight years. “Melanie understands the critical and essential role United Way of Weld County can and must play in Weld County and Northern Colorado. As we continue to work on the transition, I become more and more excited for her, our organization and Weld County. … She cares deeply about improving the lives of our most vulnerable residents and has a vision for how we better their lives and our entire community.”
Sara Seely, manager of business development and corporate sponsorships, finds that Woolman “brings strong experience and proven outcomes in developing strategic and collaborative community-wide solutions that improve lives,” she said.
“Her vision, passion and leadership approach to capture and sustain the growth and momentum of United Way, honor the work and culture of the past, and move confidently and boldly into the future will guide the organization as we continue to build on United Way’s substantial role in Weld County,” Seely said. “She is resourceful and knows how to bolster support for others by leveraging the power of relationships and networks and has experience working across private, public and corporate sectors to improve conditions in the community.”