I've spent my whole career trying to make Salt Lake a better place to live," says Deborah Bayle Nielsen. After 20 years with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, three years as the CEO of the local Red Cross, and now as CEO of the United Way of Salt Lake, she has the goods to back up that statement.
Nielsen became CEO of the United Way in September 1999, when the organization was in trouble. Nielsen has striven to refocus United Way's core mission and to rebuild trust with its partner agencies. These goals must be "everyday things," she says, because "We are working for chose people; we are working so that those agencies can better serve the community."
Beyond rebuilding, Nielsen wants to strengthen the United Way by encouraging people to give back to the community. Utah ranks 49th Out of 50 states in charitable giving, not counting contributions to religious organizations. She believes that the community needs to know that "the responsibility for charitable giving is being handled by a relatively few people, and we all have a responsibility to make this a better place." Another critical goal for Nielsen is better communicating the role of the United Way beyond fundraising by identifying the most pressing needs in the community and ensuring that contributions go where they are needed most.
Nielsen feels she is successful because she knows what she does well, knows what she doesn't do well, and surrounds herself with competent people. She is as committed to her partner agencies as to her own board. But the number one reason for her success is her credibility: "I think it is very important in this position that people trust me. When you are talking about people's money, that's critical."
For herself, the United Way is home for the foreseeable future: "There is still a lot to do, and it is a great place...