CEDAR RAPIDS — The new president and CEO of United Way East Central Iowa is looking at new strategies in fundraising and at mobilizing younger generations of volunteers.
Kristin Roberts, who will start at United Way on Feb. 3, said as fundraising and engaging volunteers becomes more challenging, she wants to “be thoughtful” in trying new strategies.
“When looking at younger donors, $20 a year may be all a 26-year-old can give,” Roberts said. “But if they continue to (give) and build that up over their lifetime versus someone who starts giving at 50 years old, they may have a larger cumulative impact. Engaging people at a younger age has advantages.”
United Way of East Central Iowa serves programs in Linn, Benton, Jones, Iowa and Cedar counties.
Roberts, 41, succeeds Tim Stiles, who stepped down in August after becoming CEO in 2017. Roberts’ salary was not announced, but Stiles’ compensation, as reported by United Way to the federal government, was $173,375 in 2019.
United Way at East Central Iowa raises $8.6 million annually and funds 24 organizations. It also collaborates with 220 programs, such as Reading into Success, a collaboration between metro school districts and the Cedar Rapids Public Library, which is working toward having all children reading at their grade level by fourth grade.
While Roberts said she has a lot of ideas, she wants to observe and learn how United Way operates before trying to implement anything new.
“They may not be the right ideas for here,” Roberts said. “To come in and implement them and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ is not going to over well. You have to take some time to observe.”
Roberts’ interest in nonprofit work was encouraged at Wartburg College, where she graduated in 2000 with a degree in electronic media and public relations, and blossomed at Junior League of Cedar Rapids, where she became involved as a community volunteer. She was Junior League president from 2011 to 2012.
She was executive director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities for five years.
“I really enjoyed doing the executive director piece and the roles and responsibilities, being right there with all the families who we were serving,” Roberts said.
Roberts said she would go warm up tea in the Ronald McDonald House kitchen — it’s where families stay when their children are hospitalized at the University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City — and see the direct correlation between her work and the families the home helped.
She also was chief advancement officer at Four Oaks, a nonprofit providing residential and community programs for children and families, and most recently was director of communications and planned giving at the Mercy Medical Center Foundation.
In her role at United Way, she said, she will be working with many people she already knows.
“I’m excited to be a part of this. It fires me up,” she said. “It fills my bucket. ... Let’s go.”
In her spare time, Roberts and her husband and two sons enjoy the outdoors, running and volunteering at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. She also is working on her master’s degree in strategic leadership at Mount Mercy University.
Running, Roberts said, is her one time of day she has to herself.
“Nobody needs you, nobody wants you,” she said. “You can think, you cannot think, you can solve the world’s problems.”
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