United Way of Douglas County leader leaves as group works to figure out its future role

photo by: Mike Yoder

United Way of Douglas County CEO Jeffrey Cornish is pictured Tuesday, March 12, 2019, at the United Way Center, 2518 Ridge Court.

The president and CEO of the United Way of Douglas County has left his position, and the nonprofit organization is unsure of how or whether it will fill the spot.

Jeffrey Cornish departed as leader of the organization on Monday, Peggy Johnson, interim CEO of the United Way of Douglas County, confirmed to the Journal-World. Johnson said Cornish left the position as part of a decision by the board to undertake strategic planning related to the United Way’s future.

Johnson said the United Way doesn’t have a timeline to fill the position, which Cornish had held since early 2019.

“We are not jumping in and advertising for who is next,” said Johnson, who previously served as a board member for the organization. “We need to determine what is next.”

Johnson said the United Way board determined that it needed to conduct a strategic review of the organization because the way businesses and others give to charitable organizations has changed.

“We’re trying to evaluate the board and the leadership team,” she said. “How do we maximize and modernize to get more money for the agencies that we support? That is what has precipitated this change.”

The strategic planning has involved other reductions in staff. Johnson said the organization had approximately eight paid employees previously but now has five. One of those is a new addition: The organization announced that Mandy Enfield has been hired to serve as director of operations. Enfield previously served as an operations director for Lawrence-based arts nonprofit Van Go and conducted project management for other nonprofits.

The changes in fundraising have become evident in the results of the United Way’s annual fundraising campaign. Johnson said the organization has launched a campaign this year, but she acknowledged it has been a lower-key event than in years past.

The organization has not set a goal for the fundraising campaign. In past years, the organization often had set a goal near $2 million to raise and distribute to social service agencies and other United Way agencies serving the local community. But the organization also had several instances in recent years where it fell short of meeting its goal.

This year, Johnson said the organization’s goal is simply to educate businesses and donors of the tremendous needs for charitable support in the community. While the group has no formal dollar goal, it is accepting monetary donations, she said.

Cornish was the United Way’s second director since late 2017. He came to the community after a career working largely for humanitarian organizations both in the U.S. and overseas.

“He’s been a valuable tool for the United Way, and we wish him the best,” Johnson said.

For its strategic review, Johnson said the board is meeting with key donors and will reach out to leaders throughout the community, including relying on the volunteer board members.

“A lot has changed in the nonprofit community and charitable giving over the past few years – United Way is not exempt from those changes,” Kurt Schueler, chairman of the United Way Board of Directors, said in a statement. “During this pandemic, we’ve seen businesses innovate to address the changing environment. United Way will adapt as well to better serve our community.”

Johnson said while the board has many issues to examine as part of its strategic planning, she has “no doubt” that there will be a role for the United Way to play in the future.

“I think the need has never diminished nor will it diminish,” Johnson said.


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