Social Awareness Permeates United Way of Greater Atlanta on Many Levels Year-Round
Friday, December 18th, 2015
Ask Milton J. Little, Jr., President of United Way of Greater Atlanta, what has driven him throughout his entire career and he instinctively responds that it’s a social awareness ingrained in him by his mother: “No matter what career you choose, always make time to help somebody.”
In his position today it means his time is spent entirely on helping someone else on a macro scale. It also requires him to promote the principles of United Way in order to leverage corporate and individual social responsibility, and make the entire community aware of the charitable organization’s goals, needs and accomplishments.
Whereas, under the once-a-year, traditional United Way model of soliciting and raising funds for charitable purposes, Little and his team, with guidance from board members, has sought to create a new focus of year-round visibility to meet its 2015-2016 campaign goal of $77.7M. That target represents an increase of about 3% over the previous year.
The key strategy for United Way of Greater Atlanta, asserts Little, is to consistently keep on message and to continually sell their success stories via direct contacts, as well as through their website. Digitally, viewers can hear examples from real individuals who have benefitted from the non-profit. Additionally, donors and their causes are brought together for consultation to discuss ways to improve and address programs. Such is the case with the Tocqueville Society, for example, which seeks to combat human trafficking.
To complement its website, United Way of Greater Atlanta also relies significantly upon social media to create social awareness. “We have frequent content on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and we are looking at technology for use with mobile platforms,” says Little. “Ours is a story-telling culture, and at the end of the day, after what people read, they are motivated by their heart and they may feel philanthropic. It then becomes a combination of head and heart.”
From a demographic perspective, the social responsibility message has reached scores of donors who want a more activist type of role in volunteerism and who are motivated by giving of their time as well as their money. Little says these people generate a high level of energy that is contagious. The old school of reacting to an annual request to contribute to United Way remains important, but other charities and demands of people in the workplace have changed the paradigm. Today, involving volunteers to a greater extent has led to key areas of improved assistance in moving people out of shelters, helping job searchers and providing health and schooling advice.
Little speaks highly of his Board support, led by Michael Petrick, Partner, Alston and Bird law firm, whose background has primarily been with volunteer-led organizations. The 47-member Board consists of corporate CEO’s, heads of non-profits, and other community leaders. It cuts across gender, racial and geographic lines, encompassing 13 counties, including the immediate major metro, the suburbs and the rural areas of greater Atlanta.
“It’s our secret sauce,” says Little. “The Board members have what I call, ‘Cash, Clout and Connections.’ They are not only adept at fund-raising, but they also have great networks from which to invite other business leaders, and when they speak or write, they get answers and cooperation.
When asked about some notable accomplishments of social responsibility supported by United Way of Greater Atlanta, Little points to the “Vets Connect” program. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed at a recent press conference announced that the city is on pace to reach “functional zero” for the number of homeless veterans. In fact, according to Little, some of those former veterans who were homeless have volunteered to help fulfill the homeless outreach of those few remaining.
Little also notes that there is a significant number of children in school who are homeless, or who are forced to move two to five times a year, which then impairs their ability to learn in the classroom. He highlights successes in places such as Austell and Clarkston, where over 100 families with 380 children have been able to find permanent shelter and have consequently given youngsters the opportunity to succeed academically. This program is called “Kids Home Initiative.” United Way fosters nearly a dozen more programs that address the areas of education, income, health, homelessness, and basic needs.
Furthermore, Little, who has led this Atlanta-based, charitable mega-organization for over eight years, proudly singles out a special recognition from the Charity Navigator Guide to Intelligent Giving, a leading independent charity evaluator. “We have received a maximum 4-star rating from them for efficiently managing our resources responsibly with low overhead costs. We have four CPA’s on our staff with skill sets that ensure that funds are invested to meet donor wishes. Our knowledgeable volunteers also help with wise investment decisions. Plus, our Board, which knows our obligation is to keep overhead as low as possible, has a talented Finance Committee. And, we don’t do a lot of advertising, but rather rely upon our website, social media efforts and publicity.”
As a career-long “donor professional,” Little manages from a unique perspective built from his extensive experience with for profit, non-profit and government entities. In addition to his time in corporate philanthropy with AT&T, he has also served as COO of the National Urban League, and early in his career worked for the New York City government in the areas of education, welfare reform and economic development. Prior to his current position, he held a similar role with United Way in Boston for four years.
“I feel blessed to be able to help people search for meaning and purpose in their lives,” says Little. “I have an open invitation to individuals and companies to give United Way a second look. Talk with us, so together we can build a better community where all individuals can thrive in greater Atlanta.”