As United Way’s President and Chief Professional Officer John Kelker put it, you don’t try to script INB Senior Vice President, Pat Phalen. So it was no surprise when Pat ended his work as campaign co-chair by leading the crowd in a stadium-type chant. A chant Pat says he practiced at every speech, every opportunity — and even when brushing his teeth.
“Beat the Beckers” became the rally-cry of Pat and his wife and campaign co-chair, Sarah Phalen, INB CEO and president. They chose these fighting words because they wanted to continue the trend of increased contributions . . . a trend started by the previous year’s campaign chairs, Dale and Cathy Becker and their family.
And while they didn’t “Beat the Beckers” by as much as they had hoped, the 2016 campaign ended at $2,686,000 — $4,000 over the previous year’s mark. As Sarah put it, “Every donor in every campaign is part of this success.” Pat added, “We can truly say we’ve reversed the trend of downhill campaigns thanks to two back-to-back years of increases.”
Kelker noted at the recent annual meeting that they’re received requests for funding at more than twice the money raised . . . so here comes the hard part: Choosing what programs United Way will fund.
He explained the organization has done a lot of work to determine where their investments will make the most impact. They began by asking the question: How do gifts to United Way change the community. Kelker admits this hasn’t always been possible, but the organization is putting process into place that can help them see and measure results. With that knowledge, they’ll have information that will help them make better funding decisions as time goes on.
United Way has always focused on basic needs: Food, Clothing, Shelter. While this support is crucial, Kelker says providing this does not improve the state of our community. So while they continue to support basic human needs, United Way funding is also directed to education, financial stability and health.
Springfield School District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill was able to take the new United Way thinking back to her employees. She told her team to look at United Way as the soil in the garden. Without good soil, flowers don’t flourish. “What United Way does for our students is help make them ready to learn. United Way is the soil. Then when they get to us, they’re more likely to flourish.” Her message made an impact: the district had the most-improved United Way campaign, with donations increasing by 51 percent this year.
Pat Phalen says stories like this make him feel confident United Way is on its way to more years of increased campaign funding. And that makes all of us at INB proud of the work Pat and Sarah did for this year’s United Way Campaign.