'great run so far' for new united way cleveland president bill kitson

Bill Kitson's first four months as new president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland haven't been about making dramatic, sweeping changes within the organization. More like internal tinkerings as Kitson continues with the getting-to-know-you phase of his tenure in Cleveland.
Kitson took the position in June after seven years with the United Way of Greater Toledo as well as stops in New York, Connecticut and Illinois. He replaced K. Michael Benz, who was the nonprofit's president and CEO in Cleveland for 17 years.
The Rhode Island native and married father of two has spent his time so far listening to the worries and aspirations of his new community. "It's been a great run so far," Kitson says. "Cleveland has been welcoming and generous with its time and thoughts."
Kitson has been overseeing the Cleveland United Way's annual campaign for health and human services since it kicked off in August. The campaign has raised $20.8 million to date and is more than half way to achieving its $41 million goal, he says.
On the policy front, United Way is putting its support behind the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's 15 mill levy that will appear on ballots this November. The levy's failure will lead to a district deficit and staff cuts, both of which would be detrimental to United Way's mission, Kitson notes.
"We can't fund youth programs in the city without education," says the organization president. "These kids are critically important."
Kitson was also on hand in September when United Way added sexual orientation to its equal opportunity and diversity policy. The new policy, which encompasses United Way and its partner groups, led the organization to discuss pulling its funding from Boy Scouts of America after the group reaffirmed its prohibition of openly gay youth and adults.
The $100,000 that United Way gives to a Boy Scouts' inner city youth program could be impacted by his charitable organization's policy shift, Kitson says. However, United Way will still accept contributions designated for the Boy Scouts.
"We want to stand up for everyone in our community," he says of the decision. "We can still be partners [with the Boy Scouts] and do some great work."
In a more global sense, United Way will continue to fine tune its mission statement, Kitson says. That could mean encouraging donors to further involve themselves in an advocacy role, or finding more creative ways to deploy resources.
"We're not satisfied with where we are," says Kitson. "We're always asking ourselves how we can change the community and create a better life for all."

Source: Bill Kitson
Writer: Douglas J. Guth
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