Community

United Way CEO stands firm as nonprofit landscape shifts

What They're Thinking: 'Continue to demonstrate why we are a good charitable investment'

Tim Stiles, CEO, president, United Way of East Central Iowa
Tim Stiles, CEO, president, United Way of East Central Iowa

A year-and-a-half into his role as CEO and president of United Way of East Central Iowa, Tim Stiles remains committed to the work that’s sustained him for the past 30 years.

Stiles, 59, began his career as the allocation director for the United Way in Wichita, Kan., and was the CEO of United Way of Siouxland in Sioux City.

He came to Cedar Rapids in 2013 as chief operating officer for United Way of East Central Iowa. After a national search, the United Way board selected him to head the nonprofit beginning Jan. 1, 2017, after Lois Buntz, its CEO and president since 2005, retired.

United Way celebrated its 100th anniversary in Cedar Rapids in 2014, a milestone that was marked by $10 million in community giving in the previous seven years.

The agency, at 317 Seventh Ave. SE, raised $10.3 million in 2016 and $9.7 million in 2017.

The money is shared with partner nonprofits to address three goals in the five-county area:

  • Increase by 30 percent the number of low-income children who are on track academically and developmentally by fourth grade.
  • Increase by 15 percent the number of low-income families that are financially stable.
  • Improve by 10 percent, by 2020, the social connectedness and mental health functioning of low-income adults.

Throughout his career, Stiles said, his belief in the mission of United Way has not wavered, even as the culture around charitable giving is changing.

We talked to him last week about those challenge and his plans:

Q: What projects are on the horizon for United Way of East Central Iowa?

A: We are looking at improving opportunities to engage donors more in causes that are important to them.

This will involve new technology and new approaches in the workplace campaign.

We are also developing new collaborations with local agencies to break the cycle of poverty in our community and ensure children start kindergarten with the literacy skills they need to succeed.

Q: What new and ongoing challenges does the organization face?

A: The changing face of the traditional workplace campaign is what brings the most challenge.

Companies are undergoing change, and baby boomers are retiring, with younger donors replacing them.

As a result, we are needing to change to serve a evolving marketplace and are working on innovative approaches to engaging more people in the work we are doing with partner organizations in the community.

Q: What impact do you think the new federal tax code has had or will have on charitable giving?

A: We are watching it closely and talking to as many organizations and tax experts as possible. The information we’ve received on its impact is mixed.

The best thing we can do is continue to demonstrate why we are a good charitable investment in making our community better.

The good news is most donors give for philanthropic reasons, not tax benefits.

Q: What is most rewarding about being CEO?

A: By far, it is the opportunity to work with great professionals at United Way as well as community leaders and dozens of partner agencies and organizations, all working together to make our community better for everyone.

It is also very rewarding to see the impact of this collaborative work such as more children improving their literacy skills, thanks to the RED (Read Every Day) Ahead collaboration; over $3.3 million tax dollars coming back to the community, thanks to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program; and more women receiving better access to basic health services through the Women’s Leadership Initiative.

These are a few of many rewarding outcomes made possible, thanks to the hard work of many great people and organizations I get to work with on a daily basis.

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Q: How has your view of United Way of East Central Iowa changed since becoming CEO in 2017?

A: Since I have been in the United Way system for over 31 years, my views on what United Way is and does haven’t wavered. What drew me to this position was the strong support we get from people and the willingness to innovate where necessary to make positive impacts on our community.

Q: How many volunteers does United Way of East Central Iowa rely on?

A: We have hundreds of volunteers that serve on boards, committees and with partner organizations. In 2017, United Way volunteers gave 66,730 hours of volunteer time to our community. They are truly the backbone to our success.

l Comments: (319) 368-8514; molly.hunter@thegazette.com

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