Q & A Michelle Taylor, president and CEO of the United Way of Delaware
Q: How long have you been involved with United Way of Delaware?
A: I have been with United Way of Delaware for more than 15 years. I started my career with United Way as the Director of Finance and Administration. Later, I was promoted to chief operating officer. After serving in that capacity, I transitioned into my current role as president and chief executive officer in December of 2007.
Q: What are your duties as president and chief executive officer?
A: While there is a critical fundraising component to my duty as president and chief executive officer, my primary role is to ensure we are having the greatest impact in the Delaware community by serving as a good steward of the funds pledged to us that we invest into the community. In addition to that, a crucial element to my leadership is to serve as a thought leader in the state around systemic community needs related to education, income and health. It is key to be part of dialogue and collective strategy to ensure we drive the greatest impact we can in our community. Of course, I also serve as a spokesperson to address the important role that United Way of Delaware plays in the community.
Q: Can you talk about the progress of this year’s campaign?
A: Every campaign always has its opportunities and challenges. Over the last couple of years, we have been intentional about building deeper relationships with our donors to ensure that we understand their aspirations and then connect those to the investments we make in the community. While we often say this, we believe that the energy level and momentum of this year’s campaign is at an all-time high. Aside from that, a bigger component to our work is to work collaboratively in the community to ensure we are truly moving the needle on things we all agree are essential to our state. United Way’s philosophy is that the focus areas are around education, income and health—as they truly serve as the foundation to a better quality of life. Most recently, we have been holding very engaging conversations with our partners throughout the community around these issues to draw on common aspirations for them and measuring our collective progress against efforts. This is always an ongoing effort and we always welcome folks to join us.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in your occupation?
A: The biggest challenge in my occupation is always the supply and demand. The needs are greater than what the resources are. There is a much greater need in the community than the resources that currently exist. While that has probably been true historically, we are seeing this at an even greater pace and height today. It is tough. There are so many worthwhile efforts, programs, strategies and collaborations happening, yet making sure we are maximizing how and where we invest to obtain the greatest return on our investment is always the greatest challenge. Therefore, we work to always identify ways to balance the equation out—to decrease the need collectively in the community, but simultaneously encourage and influence more people to give of their resources, time and voice. We are always looking to solve the short-term needs in the community, while forecasting for the long-term needs. Getting to real, long-term sustainable change in hard work and extremely complex. This does not happen overnight and it does not happen alone. We need you to help in this process. You can visit www.uwde.org to support our efforts today.
Q: What about your job gives you the greatest satisfaction?
A: The people that I work with. My staff, my colleagues and community stakeholders give me the greatest satisfaction in my work. Working alongside people who are passionate and persistent about making a difference in the lives of others is humbling. I get to impact the lives of others with some amazing individuals that are committed to the cause.
Q: What three dinner guests, living or dead, would you invite to dine with you?
A: I would love to have dinner with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. I have a lot of respect and admiration for our first family. They are visionaries and risk takers and have an extreme responsibility to make change happen across our country. It would be great to have dialogue with them about the things that affect us here locally. Also, I definitely would love to pick Dan Pallota’s brain. I believe as a leader, he is challenging how the world views the leadership of nonprofits and what it truly takes to create something great and sustain it. He has stretched our thinking around some key principle schools of thought and challenges the status quo on what it takes to be greater than norm.
Q: What food is always in your refrigerator?
A: Well, I always have shrimp in my fridge. I have a freezer full of it. My husband and I love shrimp. Let’s see … there’s also always French fries in my fridge, and you’d be able to wash either down with water or a Diet Dr. Pepper. Even when the fridge is empty, there is also some type of fruit that is in there, generally it’s grapes. That and honey mustard sauce.
Q: Can you offer a few final thoughts about the year ahead?
A: This year offers the promise of more children meeting educational benchmarks, more families and individuals becoming financially empowered and more Delawareans getting closer to a healthy and fulfilling quality of life. I want to thank each one of you for your commitment and dedication to getting intimately involved with United Way of Delaware. I am often reminded of the old proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We’re not in the business of giving a handout, but in the business of convening and empowering our entire community to achieve success that is both sustainable and long-lasting so they may reach their greatest human potential. I am committed to that mission.