United in Giving

From numbers to influence to impact, the United Way of Dane County is truly impressive

Whether you started reading this month’s magazine from the front page or (and, yes, some people really do this) the back page, or just randomly opened it to the middle, you know this issue is all about giving. There is more eloquent evidence of that in the stories and profiles of the generous people that make Madison a national leader in philanthropy, but suffice it to say the spirit of giving is so broadly woven into the fabric of this community we filled 119 pages without a story specifically about the United Way of Dane County. All of them except this page. That’s amazing.

A lot of city-regional magazines would by necessity start their coverage of philanthropy in their cities with their United Way and, several pages later, probably not much else. We have so many outstanding nonprofits, volunteers and give-till-it-feels-right supporters of those well-run, efficient organizations that we can’t fit them all into one magazine. Certainly not on one cover! But it is that strength in numbers, that sheer breadth of nonprofit influence and impact, that makes one appreciate just how special United Way of Dane County really is. It’s a remarkable relationship. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling around this country and there are very few United Ways that hold a candle to ours. I’d start with the number zero, but I’m willing to listen.  

I’ve got a story to share. Ten years ago I was at a convention in Pittsburgh on September 11th. I wasn’t able to get out of town for close to seventy-two hours. The decision was made that that week’s For The Record program, which I host on WISC–TV3, would be a special live, one-hour edition, with in-studio guests who would take phone calls. The challenge was choosing the angle from which to approach such a program and who to invite to discuss the impact, causes, responses, etc., to this pivotal moment in our nation’s history. I told WISC’s news managers and producers that my first choice and only required guest for the show was United Way of Dane County president and CEO Leslie Howard. On the one day when I was going to have a conversation about the resilience of our community, about the ability of our community to pull together and deal with the unimaginable events and unforeseeable consequences of what we now simply refer to as 9/11, I wanted the person who—because of who she is, and because of her remarkable staff and volunteers and community connections—knew Madison and Dane County so well she had a pretty darned good idea of how we’d get through this. It was best decision I made. Howard “anchored” the rest of the show.

That connection to a community and its citizens, that depth of knowledge and compassion for who we are and the challenges we face, and a forward-thinking, innovative perspective on the mission of United Way took on more structure and impact in the Agenda for Change. And that’s what I want you to take away from this column. United Way of Dane County is in the homestretch of the annual Giving Campaign, this year under the talented and generous leadership of Johnson Bank president Greg Dombrowski. The reason we need to reach the ambitious goal of $16.6 million is the Agenda for Change. Support for the United Way agencies (and Community Shares agencies) featured in these pages is important. But United Way’s leadershipin meeting community goals for education, children, housing, safety, health, independence and leadership is a blueprint for positive, lasting change. We need this agenda, and you’re not going to find it anywhere else. That’s the reason to support United Way of Dane County. That and because when we really need them, they’re there. 

Neil P. Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine. Contact him at nheinen@madisonmagazine.com.

Find more For the Record columns here.

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