United Way's Women's Leadership Council launches initiative to generate contributions

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Elizabeth Terrell travels a lot for her job at United Parcel Service.

As a sales manager, she's not typically found in the company's ubiquitous brown delivery trucks -- although she admits to having "browned up" during the hectic holiday rush to make sure packages get to homes and businesses.

But because of frequent business trips and having been transferred multiple times during her 20-year career, Ms. Terrell has forged a strong connection with the United Way's Women's Leadership Council in various cities including Pittsburgh, where she's been based since 2010.

The council, which encourages women to become involved in local philanthropy, "is not traditional networking," said Ms. Terrell, who is co-chairwoman of the leadership council. "It's making a difference in the community."

For its next fundraising campaign set to launch in September, the local WLC is not only promoting charitable giving by women but asking women to target their donations to agencies that assist women in crisis and transition. The new initiative, United for Women, will be unveiled Sept. 6 at the council's annual breakfast event that typically sells out in advance.

The leadership council hopes to raise $1 million through the United for Women effort, and its governing committee will work with five Pittsburgh foundations that focus on women's issues to determine where the funds can best be used. The partnering foundations are Eden Hall Foundation; FISA Foundation; the National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh Section; the Jewish Women's Foundation of Greater Pittsburgh; and the Women & Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania.

"When women come together and pull resources, significant things happen," said Patricia Siger, a consultant to United Way involved in WLC and the initiative.

Last year, the Women's Leadership Council raised $6.7 million of a total $32 million in donations made to United Way of Allegheny County. More than 1,600 women in the Pittsburgh region belong to the organization, which requires members to donate at least $1,000 annually.

Officials of the local group said it ranks among the top five largest WLCs in the U.S. according to annual growth, though the other cities in that group were not disclosed. Last year, councils in Boston, Atlanta, Denver and Cincinnati had higher growth rates, said Lisa Kelly, development officer for the local United Way affiliate.

United Way has a total of 130 Women's Leadership Councils that have generated donations of $830 million in the last decade, according to the parent organization's website.

To meet its goal of raising $1 million for United for Women, the Pittsburgh WLC will tell members and new recruits, "We want your $1,000 and something extra over and above that," said Laura Ellsworth, WLC's other co-chairwoman who is partner in charge of law firm Jones Day's Pittsburgh office.

Based on donations last year, which were up 20 percent from 2010, Ms. Ellsworth said, the council is targeting a 10 percent increase in contributions and new members during the upcoming campaign.

Current membership includes about 80 percent working professionals, 10 percent retired women and 10 percent who are not employed but are volunteers or women who may have stepped out of the workforce temporarily to raise children or for other reasons, she said.

"Women tend to be caregivers, so all human needs touch women," she said.

Though the uneven economy does not appear to be hampering fundraising, it is having a significant impact on some women in the community who have faced crisis situations such as job losses, foreclosures and unpaid medical bills, WLC officials said.

Many of those women are heads of households, so United for Women "is a preventative model to get ahead of real poverty," Ms. Siger said. "How do we save these women from falling off the ledge?"

Of the United Way and WLC groups in which she has been active, including organizations in Austin, Texas; Little Rock, Ark.; and Richmond, Va., Ms. Terrell described Pittsburgh's as "the most hands-on and engaging."

After Ms. Terrell had attended a couple meetings to get involved with the local women, Ms. Ellsworth pulled her aside during an event at Larrimor's, a Downtown clothing store, and asked her to become co-chairwoman.

"Women here are not afraid to put you to work," Ms. Terrell said.

The Women's Leadership Council's annual breakfast will be held Sept. 6 at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown Hotel. The keynote speaker will be author Lee Woodruff, who is a contributor to "CBS This Morning" and married to Bob Woodruff, the former ABC news anchor wounded by a bomb explosion in Iraq.

For more information or to register, go to www.unitedwaypittsburgh.org/index.php/wlcb

businessnews

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.


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