Editorial: New face, same mission at United Way


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

At its annual meeting on June 19, the United Way of Franklin County Executive Director Sandy Sayers will officially pass the baton to Kelly Brigham-Steiner of Northfield. In Brigham-Steiner, the board has found a worthy successor to Sayers.

The United Way of Franklin County is first among nonprofits in its ability to improve the lives of residents. That’s because it raises money on behalf of dozens of smaller groups, each with its own mission. Oft-cited examples include Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Girl Scouts, the Girls Club of Greenfield, the Salvation Army, the Center for New Americans and many more. Its collaborative model puts donors’ dollars into action here, in our community.

Leading the United Way as executive director since 2015 has been the capstone of Sayers’ 35-year fundraising career in Franklin County. Sayers’ forte is cultivating relationships, a sphere that builds on trust and passion. If you are passionate about helping your neighbors, chances are you count yourself among Sayers’ wide circle of friends. But Sayers also brought business acumen to United Way, implementing a change in tactics that its board of directors, led by President Larry Geiser, had already identified.

Historically, United Way utilized major employers to reach its annual fund drive goals. But the number of workplace campaigns declined with the number of industrial employers that are locally owned and run. This is the new paradigm, and United Way began to shift gears. Since 2005, the Women’s Way — an integral part of United Way — has empowered local women to drive change in Franklin County. Its signature events are Supper for Six, Blooming Backpacks and, since 2016, oral health care.

Then, in 2015, Sayers and the board launched Franklin County Young Professionals to develop and support opportunities for the next generation of community and business leaders to get involved with their community.

These are two of the building blocks that Brigham-Steiner will inherit as she takes the reins on June 25.

Brigham-Steiner brings pertinent skills to her new position, having worked most recently up the road at the Monadnock (N.H.) United Way since 2012, where she was the senior director of impact and investment and an interim president. Geiser sees that as a strength: “You have to understand where you’re coming from before you can change where you’re going to. She understands the hurdles and issues.”

Before that, she served as the director of the Monadnock Voices for Prevention, and was co-founder and director of project design and resource development at High 5 Adventure Learning Center Inc. in Brattleboro, Vt.

“My role has really been, for the last 30 years ... to be an agent of change,” Brigham-Steiner said.

Change is never comfortable, but Geiser said he saw Brigham-Steiner as a “strong personality without being a strong personality,” and someone who is “confident, but did it in a nice way.”

“I feel like I’m leaving the organization in good hands,” said Sayers. “That’s very important to me.”

Like Sayers, Brigham-Steiner brings to United Way a combination of passion, experience and sagacity. No doubt Brigham-Steiner has some new ideas of her own. We wish her success in implementing them and welcome her to her new role.