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October 19, 2011
For the past two years I have had the privilege to be a United Way King County (UWKC) Ambassador. Ambassadors are typically business people who believe in the work of UWKC and volunteer their time to speak at corporate campaigns. Last year I wasn’t able to speak at any events due to a challenging fall calendar. This year, however, I got my first chance – at Nordstrom’s kickoff for their annual giving campaign. I spoke to 200 employees from their marketing department.
As I told them, I felt a bit like a minor league baseball player who’s been called up to the majors and his first at bat is at the World Series. It was an honor to be at a company like Nordstrom, so well-known for quality, customer service, and a strong commitment to the community. Last year local Seattle Nordstrom employees raised more than $1,500,000 for UWKC, not counting the corporate contribution. This is a huge part of their mission and the culture that Nordstrom inspires and promotes.
As I told my audience, a fundamental value of PS&F, as well, has always been giving back to the community that has been so generous to us. We are proud to be a supporter of UWKC, and I can’t think of a better way to spend some of my time than to be an ambassador for such an effective organization doing critical work in our community.
UWKC has three major initiatives. First, meeting peoples’ basic needs – addressing those in crisis and immediately at risk. Over the last three years, unemployment in our area has doubled, reaching nearly 9%; home foreclosures are at a record high; and record numbers of people are visiting food banks. UWKC initiatives like Hunger Relief Now invests in programs that keep people housed, end hunger, and provide access to existing public benefits – helping people get back on their feet.
The second major initiative is ending homelessness. Since its inception several years ago over 1400 additional housing units have been created, getting individuals and families off the streets, out of their cars, and into stable housing.
The third initiative is giving every child a chance to succeed. This is the proactive part of UWKC – focused on addressing the root causes that lead to at risk adults and dependency on social services. Examples include the Summer Lunch Program which supplements the school lunch program to ensure that every child gets at least one nutritious meal a day, even when school is not in session. The Reading Program is another good example and is based on the understanding that many disadvantaged children are coming to kindergarten unprepared to begin to learn to read because they had not been read to. Trained volunteers read to children and teach parents how to read to their own kids and to be better Moms and Dads.
There is a cruel irony that has taken place since the economy began its downturn in 2008. Today there is more need and fewer resources. All the philanthropic organizations that I am proud to be associated with feel the pinch, stretched to the limits to help an increasing number of people in need with fewer dollars, from either budget cuts at the state and federal level, or from reduced giving that is a direct result of the recession.
When you hear the stories of the people in need in our community there is a natural emotional reaction. But from a business perspective, as well, I am drawn to the work of UWKC. It provides a framework and strategy for helping those in need and stitches together all the organizations doing great work in our community, maximizing existing resources. And it does it in a highly efficient, effective way, where 97 cents of every dollar goes directly to issues and not administration – relieving immediate suffering, and also focusing on solving the core issues that face people today. For instance – teaching parents how to be parents.
Parker, Smith & Feek is honored to join Nordstrom as part of an elite group – 66,000 donors that raised almost $120,000,000 to help those in crisis, to give every child a chance, and to take one step closer of ending homelessness. It’s easy to understand the emotional appeal – no child should suffer, no family should go hungry. But there’s the intellectual appeal for us in business. I know the people we are reaching are future employees, future customers, who are also going to be imbued with a sense of community, philanthropy, and are going to pay it forward. All this is going to create a community that we can be proud to live and work in.
Again, hats off to Nordstrom and to all the corporations making King County a better place to live and work.