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Transformative Changes Keep Coming

Pulliam and well-wishers at his retirement reception.

Click here to see a retrospective photo gallery and the full article with photo info.

Transylvania County is in the midst of a landmark transition. Steve Pulliam has been at the helm of United Way of Transylvania County (UWTC) for more than 19 years, and he’s decided it’s time for a transformative change. It might be more accurate to say ‘more’ transformative change.

“If there’s any one watch-word that’s applied since I started with UWTC in 1999, it’s ‘change’,” Pulliam explained.

He started with UWTC on May 1, 1999, after having retiring from General Electric in 1993 and moving to Brevard with his wife, Sharon (nee Richards, of Brevard), and their two school-aged daughters, Lindsay and Christina.

Pulliam began his time with UWTC as a part-time executive director when UWTC had raised $218,000 the previous campaign year. At that time, the agency was funding about 20 agencies with about 30 combined local programs.

“At that time, UWTC was primarily a pass-through fund raiser for agencies that included Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, The Children’s Center, Mary C. Jenkins Center, SAFE, and Rise and Shine,” Pulliam elaborated.

UWTC had a relatively established list of partner agencies that stated their needs, and that information then drove the campaign fund-raising goals. There were six very broad health and human services categories of funding that agencies could apply for, and UWTC was measuring outputs based on the number of individuals served, and not even looking for sustainable, systemic change as it does now.

“That change in measurement style came the next year,” Pulliam quipped with a smile.

Economic changes

There were, indeed other sweeping changes on the horizon. By 2001, the community had lost all the major, local manufacturing jobs that had made up most of the $200,000 donated through workplace giving.

Like most other United Ways at that time, UWTC had relied heavily on payroll deductions to fund its programs--up until the loss of local industry. UWTC had received less than 33% of donations from small businesses, corporate giving, and individuals combined.

That meant that UWTC suddenly had to scramble, not only to meet its existing commitments to fund programs, but also had to figure out very new ways to raise money for the coming campaign year, with a local economy that was not thriving.

“Before I started, UWTC was raising more money than it was being asked by agencies to give out to them. By 2001, because of the economy shift, UWTC received more applications from agencies than we could fulfill. Things were changing. We had to find a way to help agencies become more effective and produce better outcomes for the community,” Pulliam recalled.

UWTC began its move to a community outcomes focus by providing training to agency representatives to explain the advantages and the process. In addition to helping local agencies apply for UWTC funding, it helped them understand the outcomes that other, larger funding sources were starting to ask for around the country.

“As a result of the change to measuring community outcomes, we discovered that some programs that had previously been denied UWTC funding were suddenly a very good fit. Those were the programs that weren’t just experiencing large numbers of people walking through their doors, but were actually doing things to keep people from needing to walk through those doors again,” explained Pulliam.

With changes in perspective, came a change in mission statement. The board adopted a version its current mission, ‘to build a stronger Transylvania by mobilizing our community to empower people to improve their lives’ in 2001.

Funding changes

UWTC’s changes in vision and measurable results seemed to resonate with individual donors. While workplace giving dropped from 66% to 30% of campaign pledges, the number of individuals pledging at least $1000 per year increased to make up 30% of the pledges by 2003.

After dipping though one campaign year that produced only $190,000, by 2003 UWTC had rebounded to $250,000 in pledges.

“How UWTC received pledges had completely changed. We went from running 12 workplace payroll campaigns producing $125,000, to 35 workplace payroll campaigns producing $90.000,” Pulliam noted.

Because the demands of the job had changed, the board moved Pulliam from part-time to full time. It takes a lot more time and energy to put out 9000 letters to individuals and coordinate 35 workplace giving campaigns than it does to coordinate 12 payroll campaigns.

“Our plan at that time was to at least ‘ask’ everyone in the county to participate in our annual giving campaign. Of course, some of those 9000 letters were going to households that had recently lost their entire source of income, so that was a challenge,” said Pulliam.

Change in approach

Because of the sheer number of households that were hit hard by the loss of local manufacturing jobs, in 2001 UWTC’s board began its first community impact work---and its first collaborative grant. This grant, outside of the annual allocations process, was a quick and direct response generated to impact a specific community need.

A volunteer committee of 22 representatives of public and private agencies and businesses hatched an innovative plan to help people improve their prospects.  As a result, UWTC granted $10,000 to Pisgah Legal and OnTrack to team up to help 25 families remain in their homes and to apply financial strategies to survive their loss of income from Ecusta’s closing.

UWTC continued to set aside a separate pool of community impact money for several years. Primarily, it was used to foster key collaborative initiatives to address gaps of services.

“As UWTC moved further into driving collaboration through our regular grant application process, we retargeted community impact funds for distribution through the annual allocations cycle,” explained Pulliam.

Roots of vision info sheet image attached

Grant-driven change

Around 2002, UWTC collaborated with SAFE, SmartStart, Transylvania 4Cs, and other agencies to develop a community-accessible health and human services information and referral directory, and to facilitate inter-agency collaboration.

“We were working on this early on, before a lot of technology was readily available. In 2004, after United Way of North Carolina obtained the statewide license for 2-1-1, the collaborative group put its focus on transferring local information into the 2-1-1 database for live and on-line access,” Pulliam recalled.

What had started with the seed idea of sharing local information, grew into a larger opportunity for community impact. UWTC was actively seeking ways to bring outside funds into the county to help address community needs.

In 2004, UWTC applied for and received two foundation grants bringing $75,000 to the community for local data entry into the 2-1-1 database, and for system development and operation.

“We were the first small county to bring 2-1-1 information and referral services to its residents,” Pulliam stated.

Also in 2004, when flooding took its toll on Transylvania County, UWTC applied for and received about $20,000 in flood relief from the Janirve Foundation. The funds were distributed by the local unmet needs committee, led by the Transylvania County Department of Social Services.

UWTC also obtained $11,000 to help the Red Cross prepare for future disasters with shelter cots that were safe for adults who could not safely sleep on the old ‘army-style’ cots. Other flood-related actions included partnering with the Department of Social Services to help 100 families that were flooded out of their homes and participated in attracting approximately $70,000 in additional flood relief funding from the governor’s office.

National changes

Starting in 2005, UWTC formed a collaborative with Western Carolina Community Action (WCCA) to develop a focus on affordable workforce housing. That process included a community forum to identify key local housing needs for working individuals and families, and to figure out ways to meet those needs.

As a result, the Affordable Workforce Housing Project evolved. UWTC collaborated with other agencies to negotiate land deals and build three affordable houses: two in Rosman and one in Brevard. The project included volunteer labor to keep the homes affordable. The houses were sold to working individuals who otherwise would not have qualified for quality home ownership.

In spite of the later economic pressures from the national housing crisis, by 2008 UWTC’s campaign contributions had grown to $411,000.

Worldwide Changes

In May of 2008, United Way Worldwide started a push for local United Ways to change from addressing wide-open health and human service topics to focusing on three primary areas: education, financial stability, and health. UWTC’s board decided to start moving in that direction early on.

UWTC’s board first needed a way to determine community needs and service gaps. That information would then direct UWTC allocations to fund programs addressing specific community level outcomes.

To begin to identify the needs and gaps, in late 2008, UWTC provided train-the-trainer training for 20 community leaders to facilitate and develop a Theory of Change process. That led to the formation of ‘Transylvania United,” comprised of 35+ representatives of local, public and private entities. Transylvania United’s purpose was to create a comprehensive plan for the community. That plan was presented to the community at the same time as the community health assessment in 2010.

Pulliam explained it this way, “The theory of change process, a vision-driven methodology, began with the vision of where the community wanted to be in 2020, and then determined which service gaps needed to be filled to get it there. It’s been described as a ‘top down’ approach.

“The community health assessment defined needs of the community from a survey of gaps in service at the ground level, and suggested ways to meet those needs by 2020. It used a ‘bottom up’ approach to meeting needs.

“The results of the two approaches aligned beautifully,” Pulliam grinned.

Services change

UWTC used the Transylvania United results to implement funding and service changes. One early outcome was the creation of UWTC’s TRAIN (Transylvania Resource Access Information Network). TRAIN began as a direct service component, initially created to meet community health needs. That program brought grant money into the county from Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC.

Changes to UWTC’s allocation process were another outcome of the Transylvania United. In 2010, UWTC began encouraging collaboration by educating applicant agencies on the resulting effectiveness and efficiencies.

By 2012, UWTC wasn’t seeing much movement toward collaboration from applicant agencies.  So, the board voted to push harder, by earmarking up to $100,000 for collaborative applications. Agencies were informed that programs using collaboration would move up the priority list for funding.

In response, UWTC received 10 letters of intent for collaborative programs, leading to four funded collaborative programs. Those collaborative programs received a combined total of 24% of UWTC’s programmatic funding for that year.

The prevention collaborative known as ‘Connect’ was one of those four collaborative programs. It’s still funded by UWTC to assist families with children child in a variety of ways, all with a goal of providing stability and preventing abuse and neglect.

The percent of funds allocated for collaborative programs has steadily increased over time. For UWTC’s 2018 program funding year, 82% of program allocations were for collaborative programs.

Triangle Pyramid Collaborative Investment image attached to show % increase in funding of collaboration over time.

Giving changes

“We raised a record $503,000 for our 60th anniversary in 2015. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to sustain that momentum. Now, we’re hovering around a more stable $440,000 benchmark,” Pulliam stated.

Nationally, traditional giving to established charities is drifting downward. At the same time, there has been an uptick in direct giving through electronic devices for specific charity projects.

“Our 2018 campaign year showed a drop from the previous year. We attribute this to the national changes in giving patterns and to the changing demographics of donors.” Pulliam explained.

UWTC continues to rely heavily on individual donors for funding, with leadership donors, those giving $1000 or more annually, forming 50% of the donor base. A larger group of many, many other donors’ smaller contributions come together for additional important community impact.

Pulliam noted, “Many UWTC donors are retired individuals who also contribute their experience and expertise to UWTC. Rising on the horizon, however, are the younger donors who are eager to jump in and take an active role in making sure our community needs are met.

“UWTC is working to make sure that the skillsets of all community stakeholders are put to good use,” he added.

UWTC has recently returned to doing more grant writing. The agency has already obtained $50,000 in grant funds for the current campaign year, and is looking for more grants to help  UWTC build capacity to do even more community outcome-driven work.

Future of change

UWTC is not just a pass-through funding organization. It hasn’t’ been just a pass-through funding source since 2000. UWTC is multi-faceted community change agent.

UWTC does fund specific local programs (not entire agencies) designed to provide opportunities for creating sustainable change for the most at-risk populations. It also provides critical direct services to non-profits and other agencies to facilitate inter-agency collaboration, all with a goal of sustainable community change.

It all comes back to ‘change’ being the most powerful word. The UWTC board sees itself as a change agent, empowering others to change and improve their lives.

“Our goal at UWTC is to work ourselves out of a job,” Pulliam said with a sincere grin. 

And that, it seems is where Pulliam has placed himself. Out of a job. Retired. Ready for more changes.

Sunday, January 27, colleagues and friends met with Pulliam to remember and celebrate the United Way years full of change under his leadership. The event set the stage for a future of possibilities for Pulliam and for UWTC.

Pulliam’s last day as CEO is today, January 31, 2019. He passes the leadership reins to incoming CEO Louis Negron, who, with the UWTC board, will institute even more changes. That’s the one constant at United Way of Transylvania County.