Broader Participation Needed

Broader Participation Needed

When you first enter nonprofit work from outside the sector you can undergo a little bit of culture shock.  It may appear to work like a business and we do our best to use business principles in our operations but there are a number of differences.  Perhaps the biggest thing to change is internal perspective.  Before I came to this work I had the luxury to remain a little naïve about the needs of people in our community. Before I came to work at United Way it would have never occurred to me that there were children for which a toothbrush was a something to be wished for instead of an average home item to be taken for granted.  This is true.  Children in our community lack toothbrushes – as well as shampoo, clothing, medical care, and daily food.  These things we consider necessities are all luxuries to some people in our community. Once you know this, you cannot unknow it.  The knowledge changes you and requires that you do something about it. 

There is no doubt that the citizens of Steele County are generous with their resources.  Our fundraising tradition is top-notch and we all know if there is a need that requires money it will be taken care of.  Money is important.    “No money, no mission” is an adage out of the Mayo Clinic System – same with United Way.  Without money we can’t do anything to address needs.  Funds raised here serve our neighbors and friends in need, our community understands this and always provides.

However, we have another capacity issue emerging in our area – human capital, people who can join the work.  We have wonderful nonprofit agencies and organizations who are coming together to solve our community’s problems but we don’t have enough people involved to solve problems as quickly and efficiently as needed.  I hear this all the time- “my board is filled with amazing, caring, smart people but I can’t get them to show up outside of board meetings” or “whenever I have an event or open meeting the same 25 people show up.”  It seems that our employment culture is requiring ever more time and productivity out of the most productive people – those people who have traditionally been the backbone of community activism and community care.  What this means is that on “our” side, nonprofit and community service, we need to broaden the ranks. We need more people doing less work than expecting more out of the people who have been leaders in this respect. 

If we have 100 or 200 people who are the “movers and shakers” in our community that have always “gotten things done” then we need the next 100-200 to step up and join them in order for organizations like United Way of Steele County and Owatonna Forward to be able to operationalize the vision of excellence and care we have for our community.  United Way of Steele County is citizen led and governed.  Our strategic plan will benefit everyone if we have people who will show up and participate. 

We are getting ready to launch an online tool called Get Connected that will help community members find opportunities to get involved.  The way it will work is that we and other local charities and nonprofits will list volunteer opportunities detailing a description, place, time commitment and other specifics.  You can go online and browse for opportunities.  There will be one-time tasks, long term governance and service opportunities and everything in between.  It will take us a couple of weeks to get it up and running but please check our website or Facebook page for launch. 

Our community needs you to get involved and to share your time and expertise to change lives in Steele County and to create the kind of environment where everyone can thrive. 

Kim Schaufenbuel is the Executive Director of United Way of Steele County.  She can be reached at 507-455-1180 or via email at