Since its founding in 1924, the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut (UWCNC) has been guided by the who's who of the greater Hartford region.
Its board and leadership donor roll have always included senior and executive leaders, from small business presidents to corporate CEOs.
But as many nonprofits, including United Way, look to diversify their volunteer — and funding — base, they're placing greater emphasis on engaging young professionals. For UWCNC, that's meant launching its Emerging Leaders Society, designed to connect the next generation of philanthropists to the region's human service needs, while offering professional development and networking opportunities.
And Hartford's up-and-comers appear poised to answer the call. In fact, among large cities nationwide, Hartford ranked in the Top 10 in volunteerism among Generation X (#6) and the Millennial Generation (#10) according to 2011 figures from the National Corporation for National and Community Service, which tracks volunteering and civic engagement across America.
For Pratt & Whitney's Jack Soos, 24, who moved to Hartford from Philadelphia last year, the United Way's Emerging Leaders Society is about meeting and working with like-minded people to build something from the ground up.
"I have come to love Hartford and want to see it flourish," he said, noting that the society, in alignment with United Way's key priorities, will focus on the issues of education, income, and health. That focus, Soos explained, will involve monthly workshops on community issues and frequent community service projects throughout the year.
It's an important development for an organization less known for service opportunities than its 40-town fundraising campaign. "Traditionally, [United Way] has been perceived as a three-month community campaign," said Brian Boyer, United Way's director of communications. "Our young professionals society is part of our year-round engagement strategy; they are key ambassadors for our organization." That engagement, of course, includes multiple society sub-committees, including fund raising, communications, and membership.
But it's not just the United Way that stand to benefits. "The business and corporate communities have been asking us to help get more employees engaged in the community," said Liz Ferrira, manager of United Way's affinity groups, which included young professionals. "Businesses see our Emerging Leaders Society very much as an employee retention tool."
Soos, who will chair the society, agrees. "I think the society will allow young professionals to become stakeholders in the community and develop as real leaders," he said. His eight months helping establish the society — which includes volunteers from the non-profit, government, and private sectors, has already taught Soos a lot. "I've learned so much about the community and how much young professionals are already involved."
With a successful emerging leaders kick-off event behind him, Soos hopes the society's growing numbers — and active engagement — will have an immediate positive impact on the greater Hartford community. They might just become Hartford's next who's who. United Way is banking on it.
Amy Ogle, communications manager at Community Mental Health Affiliates, and Robert Nims, senior manager for emerging markets at Cigna, are among those who attended the kickoff of the United Way of Central & Northeastern Connecticut's Emerging Leaders Society on April 5 at City Steam in Hartford.