Newsmaker: Del Galloway, United Way Worldwide

With 1,800 groups globally, keeping everyone on message is paramount for the largest privately supported nonprofit in the world, but its VP of comms relishes the size of the challenge.

With 1,800 groups globally, keeping everyone on message  is paramount for United Way Worldwide, but its VP of comms relishes the size of the challenge.

A woman, a priest, two ministers, and a rabbi came together for a common goal 125 years ago. That may sound like the setup for a bar joke, but it is in fact the start of the story of United Way Worldwide.

This diverse group of people saw a need to address the city of Denver's welfare problems and created an organization to collect funds for local charities, as well as coordinate relief services. That year, the nascent group raised $21,700.

Today, United Way Worldwide is the largest privately supported nonprofit in the world with 1,800 United Way groups that raised more than $5 billion in 2010.

At the center of the organization's public relations is Del Galloway, VP of communications, brand leadership. He oversees a staff of four at the nonprofit's headquarters in Virginia, and helps guide the work of more than 300 communicators around the globe.

"Attempting to keep everyone on message can be a challenge," says Galloway, sitting in a conference room amid the glass walls of the group's Alexandria, VA, office.

June 2008 to present
United Way Worldwide, VP, communications, brand leadership

August 2006 to July 2007
Corporation for Public Broadcasting, director of public awareness initiative

March 1995 to October 2005
Husk Jennings Galloway + Partners, partner (sold agency to Toronto-based advertising and public relations firm, On Ideas)

June 1987 to February 1995
AT&T American Transtech, director of public relations

January 1985 to May 1987
Caraway Kemp Communications, director of public relations

June 1984 to December 1984
Cohn & Wolfe, account director

December 1983 to June 1984
Young & Rubicam/Zemp, account executive

With fall approaching, United Way groups are beginning annual fundraising campaigns around the world, which means this is an even more crucial time to stay on message.

In recent years, the organization has sought to break away from money-focused messaging to highlight work in the areas of health, income, and education. Internal metrics show that shining a light on work in these areas can lead to a rise in trust numbers.

"If your trust numbers go up, the chances that people will support you increase, through volunteering, giving money, or becoming an advocate," says Galloway.

Numerous efforts 
Under each focus area, United Way Worldwide has multiple ongoing initiatives. For instance, under education, the nonprofit wants to help young people achieve their potential by supporting programs that ensure school readiness at a young age.

For income, the group is promoting financial stability and independence, and for health, one target is to ensure maternal health and infant well-being.

The organization drew some attention to these issues in late July when nearly 50 United Way CEOs, staff, and volunteers gathered in Washington, DC, for an advocacy training and Hill Day focused on critical education, income, and health issues.

During the two-day event, worldwide CEO Brian Gallagher spoke about the importance of advocating for policies and programs that advance the common good on national, state, and local levels to achieve nationwide goals. Several other talks were held and congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle shared their thoughts about the legislative landscape for the remainder of the year.

While a focus on health, income, and education has made fundraising messaging effective, there are locations that "backslide" into money-focused messages, says Galloway.

United Way's headquarters has multiple mechanisms in place to keep these situations rare, including one-on-one coaching, brand forums, webinars, and sharing the successes of chapters doing things right.

He notes that international locations tend to stay on message better than some domestic affiliates. "They aren't burdened with the legacy of being focused on raising money," he says. "They are starting relatively fresh and are geared toward the idea of advancing the common good."

It is Galloway's ability to manage messaging both internally and externally that makes him such a strong asset, says Cynthia Round, EVP of brand leadership at United Way.

"He successfully works on the business by positioning the United Way movement with critical external audiences, such as the media, thought leaders, and elected officials, while also working in the worldwide network of 1,800 United Ways in 41 countries to strengthen our brand," says Round.

Others have also noticed this talent. "Del is both fearless and sensitive. He has a gift for cutting through to the core and getting to the heart of what needs to be said, and how it needs to be said," adds Melanie Husk, VP of marketing communications for Baptist Health in Jacksonville, FL.

"He can deliver a message with impact or he can gently lead you to discover the truth for yourself, using kid gloves."

Husk and Galloway used to co-own an advertising and PR agency called Husk Jennings Galloway + Partners. In addition to his own firm, Galloway had stints at Young & Rubicam, Cohn & Wolfe, and at AT&T American Transtech.

Galloway feels his background makes him "a well-rounded generalist" as he has worked with clients in multiple sectors.

This year, United Way is promoting two major occasions, its 125-year anniversary and its annual day of action, which was held on June 21. On that day - the longest of the year - affiliates and citizens around the country made a concentrated effort to volunteer at local charities.

Travel broadens the mind

When not running the PR operation of one of the world's largest nonprofits, Del Galloway enjoys traveling around the world.

In July, he went to Spain visiting Andalusia, Barcelona, and Madrid. Early next year he plans to travel to Thailand and visit Bangkok and Phuket. He bid on and won the trip during a Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays dinner earlier this year. He often heads to north Florida, where he has a home, for long weekends.

Galloway believes all the traveling makes him a stronger PR leader. "It allows you to better embrace the idea of diversity and inclusion," he says.

"In doing so, you create a higher performing operation where everyone can be authentic about who they are." 

Spreading the word
United Way Worldwide's long-time agency partner Edelman aided the organization with promotional efforts. Some of the things chapters did to promote the event included a flash mob at Union Station in DC, which received coverage in social and traditional media, as well as lighting up the Empire State Building in United Way's signature color of blue.

The nonprofit also teamed with NFL players, who were sent out to recruit 1 million volunteer readers, tutors, and mentors, which plays into a key United Way strategy for cutting the high-school dropout rate in half by 2018. This year, more than 250 communities in Canada, Colombia, France, Romania, Russia, South Africa, and the US participated in the day of action.

Coverage produced nearly 10 million Twitter impressions and trended at several points that day. Almost 50 news stories related to the day of action appeared in print, broadcast, and online media outlets, resulting in nearly 98 million impressions throughout the US.

During his three years at United Way, Galloway has made it his business to promote causes that benefit all nonprofits.

Round, his supervisor, specifically credits him with positioning Gallagher as a thought leader on charitable tax deductions. Pieces featuring the CEO speaking on the topic have appeared in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and Capitol Hill media outlets.

United Way Worldwide isn't alone in efforts to make sure everyone has a good quality of life. Galloway recognizes the importance of the group's legacy, expansive global presence, and its responsibility to promote the nonprofit sector as a whole.

"With our size and impact comes a responsibility to be a champion and voice for the sector," he says. "If not us, then who?" A question undoubtedly asked 125 years ago by a woman, a priest, two ministers, and a rabbi. 

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