Doing Philanthropic Business the Right Way

Follow your heart, trust the data, and invest in your team and the community.

by Jennifer Zammuto, Heart of Illinois United Way

Efficiency, collaboration and transparency are not only the best way to run a business—they are the future of philanthropy. At the Heart of Illinois United Way, we believe in charitable investments made by people who follow their heart, trust the data, and invest in their community. When we are empathetic to the challenges people in our community face, we can ensure our efforts are impacting lives in the most effective way. 

For more than 99 years, the Heart of Illinois United Way has supported our community in times of need. During unprecedented times like we have collectively experienced over the last few weeks, we continue to be a leader in collaborating with health and human care agencies, government organizations, schools and businesses to bring people and resources together to address immediate needs while continuing our ongoing work to support the education, financial stability and health needs of central Illinois. 

Working Together
Nonprofit organizations know firsthand that collaboration is a critical component of leadership. No one can do their work alone, no matter the role. The more we can work together with others, learn from mistakes and benchmark successes, the better our decision making and end results. This includes collaboration across divisions in organizations, across nonprofits, the private sector and government. 

When we leverage our collective strengths and support our weaknesses, we end up with a better product. And transparency is key. The more leaders can share honest direction, strategy and feedback with their teams, the easier it is for those teams to understand their strategic direction—and their part in making it come to life. 

Leading the Way
Anyone who knows me knows I am passionate about doing philanthropic business the right way. I'm also passionate about being the best leader I can be for my team and our community. There are thousands of books, articles, opinions and resources available about what it means to be a leader, but none of them have the same answer.

For me, leadership follows a model similar to our United Way’s approach to philanthropy. Truly caring about our employees’ ability to get their job done, while also caring about their well-being and work-life balance, is critical to an engaged, successful team. 

But we cannot only follow our hearts; we also have to use data to be the best leaders we can be. Our employees deserve that. Data takes personal feelings out of the equation and helps us follow a process so we can run our businesses as efficiently and effectively as possible. Data helps us adapt, grow and manage through change with a level head. 

Investing in People
Investing in our employees by understanding who they are as people, their strengths and weaknesses, is the greatest gift a leader can give an employee. That, combined with the courage to talk about challenges openly and often while focusing on the process, helps teams grow and flourish. 

Connecting people with roles and opportunities that highlight their strengths, giving them the flexibility to be themselves, and trusting them as experts in their work brings me real joy each day. Whether you work for a nonprofit, corporation, government entity or manage your home, be there for people when they succeed and be there when they need support. Follow your heart, trust the data, and invest in your team and the community. When you lift others up, you rise up with them. PM

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