› Job: President and chief executive officer of the United Way of Greater Chattanooga
› 2018 distinction: The United Way of Greater Chattanooga announced drastic changes to the way it will serve the community and its partner agencies through a new funding model this year and the construction of a “Hub for Social Innovation” in early 2019. Scearce also brought on board new senior team members in 2018 and the organization created its first marketing and community engagement department.
Lesley Scearce, United Way's President and chief executive officer, started her new role in 2015, but 2018 brought several changes to the historic agency that Scearce hopes will lead to more community engagement and results to some of the biggest social issues the area faces.
This past summer, United Way announced its allocation model was being replaced with a more competitive and flexible process in which nonprofits bring their best work forward to apply and request funds. They have three new funds, including an innovation fund that will provide small, one-time grants to help nonprofits take risks or invest in capacity; an impact fund that will provide multi-year grants focused on education, economic mobility and health and well-being; and a United Neighborhoods fund that will roll out in 2020 and will create five-to 10-year investments in certain neighborhoods.
"Probably the most important thing to know about it is that at the end of the day the process will be more collaborative, more aligned, more flexible and more effective, seeing a greater return on community," Scearce says.
Hoping to hit a $11.5 million fundraising goal this year, United Way also rolled out a new digital strategy to engage the employees of the companies they work with more. If employees at major companies in town decide to participate, then they fill out a survey that helps United Way cater certain opportunities available in the community for them whether that be through volunteering, donating or other ways to get involved.
"For years, United Way has known the companies we've partnered with really well but we haven't always known the people inside them," Scearce explained. "I think we are seeing a tremendous shift in our communities away from institutions building community to individuals all with their own voices wanting to be active in the community."
And while there have been significant funding and internal changes at United Way this past year — all led by Scearce — 2019 will also bring a new "Hub for Social Innovation" that will be on the first floor of the United Way office off Market Street and will be a place that nonprofits can work together and innovate to address some of the biggest problems Chattanooga faces.
"The goal is ultimately deeper awareness and engagement about community," Scearce says.