U.W.R.C. Director discusses non-profits with MU students


Parthenon File Photo

Laura Gilliam, Executive Director of the United Way of the River Cities, discussed her work and faith with UKirk students.

United Way of the River Cities executive director, Laura Gilliam, is passionate about nonprofits, a field in which she has spent most of her career.

Before Gilliam joined the United Way team a little over a decade ago, she worked in insurance in multiple states until she and her husband settled in Huntington. Gilliam said she moved from insurance agency to agency because she felt she just hadn’t found her fit yet, then she had the opportunity to help develop a nonprofit called Faith In Action.

Gilliam said this is where she felt like she was making a difference in her community, which is what she felt she was missing while working in insurance.

“What I would encourage you to do, regardless of whether its United Way or something else, find what your passion is and connect with it whatever way you can,” Gilliam said. “There’s a lot of things that our communities need help with and you all have talents and you have a voice and you have passion and so figure out what floats your boat and connect with it.”

Gilliam gave this advice to Marshall University’s Reporting Public Affairs class March 7 while discussing with the student journalists common misconceptions about nonprofits, along with what the mission of United Way of the River Cities is.

“A lot of times I think people think that nonprofits are these little charities and just kind of have their own set of rules,” Gilliam said, “and just sort of go along and don’t need to pay much attention to best practices or don’t need somebody to lead it or to be in a finance position who understands good bookkeeping and accounting and financials. And that’s just not the case.”

United Way of the River Cities is an organization that acts as a liaison between individual donors and businesses to fundraise for health and human service organizations and programs throughout the Huntington community and surrounding area. United Way of the River Cities distributes those raised funds each year based on need and how the programs fit into the focus critical issues of United Way of the River Cities. United Way of the River Cities serves Cabell, Mason, Lincoln and Wayne counties in West Virginia, along with Lawrence County, Ohio.

One of the areas of focus of United Way of the River Cities is education. According to a breakdown of United Way of the River Cities affiliate organization funding provided by Gilliam, United Way of the River Cities provides funding to four education programs and each of them receives over $20,000.

“I would say that education is probably one of the things that we concentrate on the most and it’s because it’s so foundational to everything else,” Gilliam said. “First of all, you know that if a child’s literacy level — if they’re not reading at grade level by the time they’re going into fourth grade, they’re at risk for not succeeding and not graduating.”

Gilliam said the transition of students from elementary to middle school is challenging and must be successful and said United Way of the River Cities has programs in place through funding partners and through United Way of the River Cities’ initiatives that help address this area of education.

“It’s such a foundation of everything else. In fact, when you talk about issues that are in some of these other areas, you will see it circle back to education very frequently,” Gilliam said.

United Way of the River Cities, according to the organization’s annual reports, raised $1 million for its affiliate organizations and internal community initiatives in 2012 and raised at least $900,000 dollars in 2013 and 2014. According to Gilliam, the final disbursement of funds from these fundraising years was $715,353 in 2012, $550,311 in 2013 and $583,474 in 2014.

Gilliam said United Way of the River Cities is still in its fundraising year for 2016 and has not yet reached its fundraising goal. She said United Way of the River Cities has changed its fundraising tactics over the years, one of which has been developing a strategy to attract individual donors and holding fundraising events, along with continuing to pursue its workplace campaign.

Amanda Gibson can be contacted at [email protected]

See more stories about the United Way of the River Cities inline at marshallparthenon.com