From fundraiser to community impact worker

On his first day working at the United Way of Greater Cleveland Bill Kitson sat down for a 6 a.m. interview on WKYC-TV.

“It was a great opportunity to say hello to the community first thing in the morning on my first day,” Kitson says.

A 25-year United Way veteran, Kitson became the Cleveland chapter’s new president and CEO in June 2012. The Cleveland community was curious to hear how he planned to better the organization and its efforts in the community.

“Cleveland is my seventh United Way community,” Kitson says. “I’m really thrilled with the level of support of the United Way here, and the level of corporate support is just spectacular. It gives us a great base to build from as we try to create change in the community.”

The United Way of Greater Cleveland celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013 and Kitson has been focused on changing the United Way from fundraiser to community impact worker.

Here’s how Kitson is working to improve the United Way of Greater Cleveland and its community.

Understand the issues

When you’re a new president or CEO, everyone has questions for you and they want to know what you’re thinking. You have to resist the urge to talk about that, and instead ask and listen to the people you’re with.

“There will be plenty of time to share your story and your point of view about the work that’s going on, but if we don’t stop and listen first we may miss opportunities to learn and grow even more,” Kitson says.

Kitson heard that the community wanted more focus around graduating kids, keeping families financially stable and keeping the community healthy.

“As I started hearing the aspirations of folks that swirled around those issues, those are the things our volunteers are looking at to see what our priorities should be in those areas,” he says.

Be strategic

One of the biggest shifts in Cleveland’s United Way has been focused around changing from fundraiser to community impact worker.

“We’re trying to engage our community in new and varied ways,” Kitson says. “So not only asking for your money, but for your time and asking you to volunteer in schools and in neighborhoods. We are also asking people for their voice and asking them to advocate and stand up for some of these issues as our community faces them.”

The engagement strategy is an important aspect for those organizations that are focused on a mission.

“You need to have a connection to your community beyond asking for a check,” he says.

This past year the United Way of Greater Cleveland has been strategizing and developing new plans that will ultimately make a difference in the community.

“When I talk about listening and understanding our community — that’s not just a two- or three-year thing, that’s a generational thing,” he says. “We have to get better about listening and understanding and knowing where we can impact our community best.

“When people think of nonprofits that they’re really passionate about, their involvement with them goes beyond fundraising, and we have a similar mission to create change in the community. There are a lot of folks out there who would get really excited about a richer relationship with their United Way and we look forward to that.” ●


How to reach: United Way of Greater Cleveland, (216) 436-2100 or