United In Purpose: A Conference and a Credo

Jun 7, 2023

Ever have one of those days when everything just feels like too much? Like you’ll never get where you want to go, accomplish the things you want to do, or even feel like you’re making a difference? In the nonprofit world, these days definitely happen. Days when the problems seem too big, the challenges too many, and the staff and budgets way too small.

When you spend your days trying to change the world, it can be hard to maintain that can-do spirit. Sometimes, you just want a giant support group of your peers to remind you that you are, in fact, doing important and impactful work. This is exactly what I found at United In Purpose, a three day United Way conference that packed a powerful punch of experiential learning, compassionate connections, and incredibly inspired leadership.

With more than 1,300 attendees from 317 United Ways representing 15 different countries, this event presented a spectacularly diverse array of opportunities to share, learn, support, and grow. Being surrounded by people with deep passion to improve lives and communities reminded me why, over the course of my career, I have continually gravitated back to this work. Not because it’s quick and easy, but because it’s meaningful and important. And because, despite all the challenges and obstacles, this work fuels the soul.

And speaking of soul, let’s talk for a moment about United Way Worldwide’s new CEO, Angela Williams, who I am now referring to as the Oprah of United Way.20230517134554 quy 3318

Angela is everything you want in a leader. She’s capable, inspirational, funny, kind, and wise. And most importantly, she’s all in. She believes in the power of United Way: of the network, the mission, the programs— and the people who bring these things to life. Yes, she’s your leader, but she’s also your biggest fan. When Angela speaks, she not only validates our work, our challenges, and our fears. She rekindles our commitment and stokes the fires of determination and grit.

At United In Purpose, she renewed our belief in ourselves and in one another. She reminded us that when we lock arms together, we become exponentially stronger, and that when we commit to moving in the same direction, we can create a sea of change. She reiterated the importance of perseverance in pursuit of our goals and dreams, and encouraged us to forge onward in our work, not only because we owe it to ourselves and our communities, but because we owe it to those who came before us, and to those who will follow. Angela’s words resonated because they are true.

United Way is a global organization with incredible recognition and strength, but the true beauty lies in our ability to drill down and make change locally— in our own neighborhoods. There are over 1,100 United Ways worldwide, all of them committed to addressing the most pressing issues in their communities. At United In Purpose, we heard from many of them. Stories of needs identified, programs launched and funded, and a host of creative partnerships leading United Way down new roads toward the future.

What did I take away from this time spent with colleagues who quickly became mentors and friends?

  • New perspectives on how United Ways can and should rise to meet the needs of communities.
  • Renewed enthusiasm for the work we do to help our friends and neighbors get back on their feet and stay there.
  • A reminder that as times change so, too, should the ways we collaborate for good.

kristi and stephanieAs United Way of Whatcom County looks toward the future, I will be bringing some of that Angela energy to our little corner of the globe. Our team is energized and excited about new possibilities, programs, and partnerships. We’re committed to being adaptable, flexing to meet our community where it is, and stepping up where and how we are needed. Yes, we may end up looking a little different than we have in the past. And we will lean into our network of United Way sister organizations and the support of our donors, volunteers, and fans along the way.

But first, gratitude.

For how far we’ve come. For those who believe in this work. For the stories of lives changed. And to you, for joining us on this adventure. Thank you for choosing to Live United— and making a difference in the world. Some days it’s difficult, but most days it’s divine.

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