Local United Way searching for a new leader: McGowan steps down after 14 years

MIDDLEBURY — United Way of Addison County Executive Director Kate McGowan has helped the leaders of a lot of local nonprofits strategize on funding and delivering charitable services to the people who need them most.
After 14 years spent improving human services in Addison County, McGowan now wants to help nonprofits on a statewide scale. On Thursday she announced that she’s resigning from her position to become interim director of the Center for New Leadership, or CNL, which is run out of the Marlboro College Graduate School in Brattleboro.
The CNL explores and applies new approaches to leadership, working with mission-driven individuals, organizations and coalitions. Among other things, the center imparts leadership skills through teaching, coaching and consulting.
McGowan had become increasingly aware of the CNL in recent years, and has already done some training and consulting with the group.
“I really appreciate nonprofits that really want to develop their skill-sets so they can be the best they can be,” McGowan said. “I like to be part of that. This is an opportunity to impact more than what I can here in this county — which has been a lot during the 14 years I have been here.”
McGowan will transition to her new job early next month. And fortunately, UWAC is not likely to miss a beat as it continues its effort to raise $650,000 this year for local nonprofits delivering food, child care, counseling, housing and other vital services to low-income residents.
Nancy Luke, UWAC’s manager of development and marketing, will slip into McGowan’s role at least until the 2017 fund drive wraps up at the end of this fiscal year (June 30, 2018).
“We have a plan in place, and we’re going to follow it,” Luke said of her newly expanded leadership role.
McGowan leaves as the most-tenured United Way director in the state of Vermont.
“I’ve been here a while,” McGowan said. “Many of (the other county United Ways) have had four, three or two executive directors while I’ve been here.”
She believes her departure could ultimately be a good thing for UWAC.
“I guess there comes a time when the organization and the communities should be served with a new set of eyes,” McGowan said.
She joined the UWAC staff 14 years ago, first serving as co-director with Helen Freismuth. McGowan removed the “co” from her title in 2012, when Freismuth decided to leave after seven years to pursue other opportunities.
Under McGowan’s leadership, UWAC evolved from what had largely been a fund-raising organization to one that has become directly involved in programming for the local people needing services.
“I love this community, I love the mission of the United Way, I love the work that we’ve been able to do over the last 14 years,” McGowan said. “It’s been a privilege to serve this community and to help lead this organization from a ‘traditional’ United Way to a ‘high-impact’ United Way.”
UWAC loses McGowan at somewhat of a delicate time. As reported on Dec. 14 by the Addison Independent, the organization is mid-way through its 2017 fund-drive and a concurrent Legacy Society endowment campaign.
“We have an excellent team right now,” McGowan said. “That makes it harder and easier to leave, when you have a team you are very close to and have the utmost faith in, and have learned so much from. I leave knowing this organization is in great hands, that they know what they’re doing.”
She believes the timing is actually OK for both her and the United Way.
“The campaign is in mid-stream, but the really hard work comes ahead of the campaign and then you make pivots along the way as we monitor things. And Nancy (Luke) is very good at that,” McGowan said.
She’s enjoyed her time with United Way, but didn’t want to pass up a chance to work with CNL — a group that had created a brand new post that matched up well with McGowan’s skills. She and her United Way colleagues frequently network with area nonprofits, at times coaching their leaders on their respective outreach efforts and in developing long-range plans.
“Whatever a mission-driven organization needs, (CNL) tries to help get those skill-sets in the hands of people working in the field,” McGowan said.
Fortunately, McGowan will be able to do most of her work from home, saving her what would have been a brutal daily commute to Brattleboro. Still, she expects to do a lot of traveling throughout the state as part of her new job.
“I will be putting some miles on the car,” she said.
The UWAC board early next year will launch what President John Dale described as a “greater Vermont” search for an new executive director, a position for which Luke will be able to apply.
Dale praised McGowan for her many years of service, and Luke for stepping in to ensure continuity during the coming months.
“We have complete faith in Nancy, over the next six months and beyond, in directing the United Way and continuing the good work that Kate has done,” Dale said. “We’re really fortunate that Nancy is here. There’s a void, but it could have been a huge void had Nancy not been here. We have a really strong staff.”
Longtime UWAC volunteer Linda Schiffer has agreed to provide the organization with some extra help reviewing member funding requests and applying for grants, according to McGowan.
Luke vowed to carry on the UWAC work with what will be a leaner workforce through next spring.
“We’re a team,” Luke said.
The UWAC will host an open house on Thursday, Jan. 4, from 3 to 6 p.m., for people to celebrate McGowan’s contributions and her new career path.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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