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01-Dec-2015

United Way finds success through partnership

Lisa Parish – United Way of Kearney

Lisa Reese Parish has served as the Executive Director of United Way of the Kearney Area since March 2007.  Lisa is a Class 9 Alumni of Leadership Kearney and a past alumni chair. She lives in Kearney with her husband and their two sons.

United Way of the Kearney Area was established 51 years ago by business leaders in the community who wanted to give their employees the opportunity to contribute to well-run, local non-profits. By continuing relationships with those businesses and adding more, United Way is at the forefront of fundraising in the Kearney Area.


Philanthropy in Kearney is robust and the community has used it to build attractions and services that you don’t normally find in a city of 32,000 people. From art, history and car museums to a park system that draws people from all around, Kearney’s charitable investment has an impressive return in the quality of life in our community.

Today, Kearney is a destination for fundraisers. From the Annual United Way Campaign, Give Where You Live, Susan G. Kommen for the Cure, Cattlemen’s Ball, Gold, Class Act, Loper Backers, Spirit and hundreds of others focus on Kearney to link resources to causes.


Unfortunately, Kearney’s charitable investment has fallen behind when it comes to helping those in need and our United Way is challenged to focus the community’s attention on the investment needed in its people.

My advice to fundraisers is that it is easy to start an exciting organization or project and move on. The really successful people are those who help organizations focus on their mission year after year. In order to stay relevant and motivated, you have to plan that 20 percent of the work each year will focus on something innovative.

Michele Henke – South Central United Way

Michele Henke joined United Way of South Central Nebraska in 2011 and became Executive Director in 2012. She works to maximize the impact of United Way’s investment in Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties. Prior to joining United Way, she was a Quality Assurance Analyst with ResCare Workforce Services.


United Way of South Central Nebraska has been successful in connecting with businesses because we make it simple for a business or employees to contribute with either a one-time donation or through payroll deduction that is gradual throughout the year. Workplace campaigns are about bringing people together, and by participating in a United Way campaign, it gives the business and employees the opportunity to learn about needs in the community as well as where to get involved. They experience the satisfaction of seeing their donations turn into programs and services that impact their friends, family, neighbors and coworkers. They feel proud that their company or organization helped to make a difference.

No one person or organization can do it alone, and businesses understand that with 19 funded partner agencies the impact of their support is dramatic in our community, as we help people with a "hand up" rather than a "handout." We enjoy success stories of those that utilized the services of one of our agencies in order to get back to where they were, working for one of our local business' and being a customer of their goods or services and contributing to the local economy.

Our annual campaign video helps relay the importance of giving and how those dollars are impactful in our four-county area.  We share success stories of local people that benefited from United Way donations. Life can change quickly and you never know when you may need services funded by United Way.

We do not just rely on our campaign to help meet community needs, but also work to put on a golf tournament, hypnotist show and other fundraisers to maximize our reach.

My advice for other nonprofit leaders is to be transparent, ask questions and be open to feedback from the people in your community. The great thing about the Hastings area is that the nonprofit leaders work together, share ideas and support each other in being successful. That networking is invaluable for nonprofits, and the Hastings area is blessed to have so many great leaders that make our community stronger!


Karen Rathke – Heartland United Way

Karen is in her 13th year serving as the President and Chief Professional Officer at the Heartland United Way in Grand Island. Prior to joining the United Way, Karen served as a Department Director for eight years for a large rural Community Action Agency covering 21 counties in North Central Nebraska. Karen received her Master’s Degree and Bachelor’s Degree from the UNL.


Heartland United Way serves a generous four-county coverage area, with just fewer than 90,000 people in Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick Counties. Many outsiders would think there would be limited opportunities for philanthropy in this area, but just the opposite is true.

This year’s Go Big GIVE, or the second annual day of online giving, generating over a half a million dollars for 83 local nonprofits. The community mobilized and doubled donations from the previous year throughout the giving day. This one-day event, coordinated collaboratively with the Grand Island Community Foundation, illustrates the key to any successful fundraiser: by connecting an organization’s mission with a carefully organized event, donors know the money raised will make an impact. United Way fundraisers have many players — golfers, ice cream scoopers, food collectors, bacon makers and toy donators — but all have the shared mission to improve lives and create possibilities.

In sharing our mission, we believe in telling the story behind the data. Not only does this make issues more approachable, it offers transparency of progress toward goals. We are in this together and achieving real results is possible today.

Businesses in the community have been eager to learn about our work through our Tour of Agencies and volunteering in our community projects, as well as in workplace campaigns, at educational events and through board membership. These avenues create successful relationships, but also foster trust, mutual understanding and hope that conditions can change.

Nonprofit leaders have the mighty task of leading efforts to improve their community, so it is crucial to show the very behavior you wish of your community: let’s be highly innovative, energetic and impactful.  Heartland United Way is thankful for the opportunity to serve each and every day, and we are always looking for ways to improve our efforts to create change, with passion and purpose.


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