Just Jane

Five years removed from scandal, United Way of the Central Carolinas has remade itself behind the leadership of not-so-secret-weapon Jane McIntyre. But are United Way and McIntyre equipped to connect with the Kickstarter generation?


Published:

Logan Cyrus

(page 1 of 2)

Jane McIntyre accepts the $75,000 check printed on a huge posterboard and pretends it’s too heavy for her to hold. People probably pull that same gag at ceremonies where giant checks are passed all the time, but when McIntyre does it, it’s actually funny. The crowd of 100 giggles. The attendees giggle when she waves a copy of her speech in the air. They giggle when she makes a show of stepping out from behind a podium nearly as tall as her. Even though it’s a regular workday afternoon in February, the drab second-floor South Brevard conference room feels like a cocktail party, with McIntyre, executive director of United Way of the Central Carolinas, the hostess who knows how to make all of her guests feel wanted and appreciated.

McIntyre just told the room that 33,000 donors gave $100 or less to the United Way’s campaign and reiterated her belief in the importance of broad support from small donors. Still, the nonprofit is just shy of reaching its annual campaign goal. But today is Big Check day, when suits from Duke Energy, Bank of America, Family Dollar, and Ingersoll Rand are delivering $35,000 to $75,000 each. That means meeting the lofty campaign goal of $21.2 million. That means McIntyre, 65, has done it again.

“Now maybe some of us can get some sleep at night,” she tells attendees at the end of the ceremony. They giggle.

Don’t think for a minute that she’s talking about herself.

If you played hooky during the last company-wide United Way session at your office, here’s the cheat sheet: the United Way is an umbrella agency in the nonprofit world, meaning it raises money for smaller agencies that often can’t afford to have full-time staff members work on fundraising and other needs. In 2012, the local chapter gave $16.5 million to 87 area agencies serving vulnerable populations, such as people in need of emergency housing or mental health care. The chapter says 352,000 people in its five-county region, many of them children, received a service from a United Way-funded agency in 2012.

My first sit-down interview with McIntyre was canceled when she slipped and fell outside her home the night before; she needed to spend the day at doctors’ appointments, and she needed to soothe two painful black eyes. She still carved out an hour and a half to speak with me by phone.

“Do not try to deadhead your pansies in the dark,” came the drawl when she picked up the line.

McIntyre is that Southern woman, the one many Northerners believe exists only in books: the kind who knows her colors (good luck spotting the titian-haired McIntyre in anything other than creams, ambers, and golds) and tells charming anecdotes about her grandma (the dirt-floor laundry room where she washed church linens, the homemade biscuits delivered to the home-bound). And there’s one more thing about this type of woman: she takes zero crap.

In 2008, when news broke that McIntyre’s predecessor was making $365,000 a year plus benefits including a luxury car and a retirement fund worth millions, the United Way’s name became associated with gross mismanagement across the region—and the public was outraged to learn the board had rubber-stamped everything. As if that weren’t enough to send the nonprofit’s donations into a nosedive, a few months later, the financial crisis hit—in a banking town.

“The community was angry,” says McIntyre, who was head of the YWCA, which was partially funded by the United Way, “and they took it out on the staff, who were innocent.”

Angry is a fair word, but it was more than that, something that in Charlotte is even worse: national embarrassment. Our comparison-wired city had long taken great pride in the local chapter, touting that ours was one of the top fund-raising United Ways in the country. Suddenly Charlotte had an ugly headline that played out for months; even today, when you’re typing United Way Carolinas into Google, the search engine helpfully auto-suggests the word “scandal.” McIntyre was signing up to not just fix a nonprofit in shambles but to help rebuild a piece of Charlotte’s ego. The feat seemed improbable.

But to wonder why McIntyre would want the post is to not know much about how she operates. McIntyre cut staff. She cut the budget. She took a salary of $142,000, which has not changed. She went around the building unplugging unused appliances. She untangled even the tiniest bits of red tape. Her first week on the job, she tried to send a staff-wide email. Her computer couldn’t do it. She asked her assistant for help. Her assistant couldn’t do it. They called in tech support. Tech told her the staff-wide email option had been disabled. No one was allowed to use it.

“And here I was thinking I’d been hired to be in charge,” she says, laughing.

The email story is a favorite of hers to tell. McIntyre knows that being genuine while being strategic isn’t contradictory. It’s all part of her leadership style: Be honest and people will see that earnestness in you; at the same time, there’s no need to bore them.

Of course, with the damage done to the United Way, bureaucratic IT rules were the least of the challenges.

McIntyre was signing up to not just fix a nonprofit in shambles but to help rebuild a piece of Charlotte’s ego. The feat seemed improbable.

Historic social change swept through the United States in 1968, though it wasn’t completely trickling into small-town South Carolina, where McIntyre graduated from Columbia College that year.

“Back then, there wasn’t much for women to choose from. Music director? Nurse? Teacher?” McIntyre says. She went with teacher, focusing on special education as her husband’s career in the Air Force took them to places like Maryland and Nebraska. After the birth of her first daughter at age 24—she’d have three girls in fewer than five years—she stayed at home and then mixed in some part-time work.
As she was sorting out how much she wanted to be at home with the kids and how much she wanted to be at work, the family moved to Charlotte. But something else happened too. When she arrived home from the hospital after the birth of her second child, family members immediately noticed a large bulge in her neck. She went to have it checked. A doctor walked into the exam room and, without even touching her neck, said, “that needs to come out.”

Although she’d been raised with religion, cancer at 27 gave her faith.

“It should have been the worst time of my life, but it wasn’t, because I realized the power of faith then. Faith transformed me. Cancer forced me to grow up and no longer be a little girl; I think you’re still not quite grown up in your twenties. I didn’t take one day for granted after that. You’ve got to live to the max. One day you look up and say: It’s time to go to work.”

Sales rep for ladies’ apparel. In business with a friend. Junior League. Church vestry. Her first financial gift outside of church, in 1976, was to United Way.

 

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