The butterfly said to the sun, “They can’t stop talking about my transformation. I can only do it once in my lifetime. If only they knew, they could do it at any time and in countless ways.” Dodinsky
The word “transformation” has been on my mind since last year’s United Way of Central Alabama’s annual campaign. It was my second year to serve as a Loaned Executive Manager (or SLEM). This position required me to work with a team of Loaned Executives (LE’s), meet with each team member on a weekly basis, answer questions about United Way and the campaign, check in with them personally and professionally, review their accounts and help them troubleshoot any problems they were experiencing. When you work that closely with people over the course of 13 weeks, you really get to know them. You witness a lot about their work habits, the way they think and how they process adversity and success. You build trust. You build friendships. You watch them transform.
When a local company loans one of their employees to the UWCA campaign for 13 weeks, they are made a promise,” send us your best and we will send them back better.” This because the training offered before the campaign begins is very high quality and professionally done. I always say that I’ve been through this training four times now and every single time, I learn something new. LEs are given training in public speaking, organizational skills, sales training, Meyers Briggs assessment, and marketing skills. This is all valuable training no matter where you are in your career. Some LEs are just getting started in their careers and are fresh out of college. Others are more established and come to the program with a little more experience. But when it comes to being a Loaned Executive, they are all on the same page once the campaign begins.
I’ve had the pleasure of watching four teams (I managed two teams this year) transform over these past three years. Once the LEs get their account books – this is the book of all the companies they will be contacting to encourage participation in the campaign – the process begins. I can usually tell with our first one-on-one meeting to review accounts where each team member’s head is in the process as they prepare to make their calls. Some are a little scared and some are extremely organized but all are anxious to start. They will ask me and other UWCA staff many questions – sometimes they ask the same questions over and over and will apologize for it – but to me, that shows they want to get it right and they want to learn.
During the UWCA campaign each year, there’s the process of getting a campaign ready for a company and then there’s the actual knowledge of United Way that you share. Each LE is coached on how to develop their United Way story to share. This can sometimes be difficult because some LEs think that since they haven’t experienced a disaster or traumatic event in their lives that United Way really doesn’t apply to them…that it’s for other people. I remember telling my first-year team that even though they may not realize it, they all have a United Way story somewhere inside of them. I said, “If you aren’t aware of it now, it will come to you and sometimes in unexpected ways.”
For instance, in 2018 one of my teammates was standing in front of her desk one day early in the campaign and I noticed she seemed a little upset. I asked if she was all right and she began to cry saying she had just lost her childcare and didn’t know what she was going to do. That’s when I told her about Childcare Resources (CCR), a partner agency of UWCA. She was still learning about all the partner agencies and direct services so didn’t really know much about CCR. I suggested she call them to see if they could recommend daycares for her daughter. Later I learned that this became part of the story she shared when she made presentations.
As each LE discovers their story and practices their presentation, they learn to tie in the messaging of the campaign. A new theme each year helps build on the story. The past few have been great to build upon too – Be the Change, Be an Everyday Hero and this year, Hope Happens. As each LE goes out into the community to make their presentations, they begin hearing other people’s stories and how United Way helped them. They get questions from people and help them understand the collective impact of United Way in our community. They get excited when company campaigns go well and they are disappointed when they are told “no.” In the case of a “no,” they have the courage to go back and ask again and sometimes that no turns into a yes. This year, during the Covid-19 pandemic, further questioning by LEs sometimes told a story of its own. Several heard about people losing their jobs due to the pandemic. LEs were able to provide information that would be helpful to the business owners to share with these employees. In many cases, these business owners didn’t know about the services offered and they were genuinely grateful to have this information to pass it along.
During the last few weeks of a campaign, there is a confidence visible in the Loaned Executives that just shines. As part of a team of people working towards the same goal of raising money to help our community, there is a sense that everyone should understand the importance of what they are doing! This is the part that I love seeing because there is a realization that the work they are doing is about advocacy too. They have become ambassadors for United Way and they begin to see opportunity to do more, do good and keep this momentum going long after they leave this Loaned Executive position.
As I said to my teammates this year on our last day together, “Your experience with UWCA has been one of those ways that the butterfly is referring to in the quote. After 13 weeks your transformation is now complete! You have made Hope Happen in many wonderful ways this year and it’s safe to say that you will forever be changed by this experience.”
These Loaned Executives mean the world to me…and they mean hope to me. They are now my forever friends and I look forward to seeing them go on to do great things with love and compassion.
I’ve taken so many photos of my United Teams over the years…here are a few in a slideshow.