United Way Chatham-Kent CEO, Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, and United Way Worldwide CEO, Brian Gallagher.

The United Way Board of Directors today announced the retirement of Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, its long serving CEO, to be effective Friday, 2018 AUG 17.  The announcement was made just two weeks following the CEO’s 35th anniversary with the organization.

“This is a bittersweet announcement,” said incoming Board President, Brad Langford.  “While our organization has benefited tremendously from Karen’s leadership, we acknowledge that it is her desire to become – in her words – a ‘recovering’ CEO and to pursue other interests in retirement.”

The Board acknowledged Karen’s vision and tireless passion and commitment to the organization’s mission, to her community and to those most vulnerable of Chatham-Kent’s citizens. Under her direction, United Way spearheaded the incubation and nurturing of a number of community development initiatives including Operation Cover-Up (now housed with The Salvation Army), Operation BackPacks, Operation Red Nose (now Home James), the Chatham-Kent Children’s Safety Village, the Prosperity Roundtable, Chatham-Kent Drug Strategy, Habitat for Humanity, NeighbourLink, the Women’s Leadership Council, Chatham-Kent Nonprofit Network and “The 425” – one of Chatham-Kent’s community service “Hubs”.  During her tenure, the United Way raised and invested over $53 Million in agencies, programs and services to build a stronger, safer and more caring community for one in three residents.

In keeping with its CEO Continuity Plan, the United Way Board of Directors has established a Transition Committee.  Terms of Reference will include interviews with community partners, donors, service recipients and funded agencies to confirm that the organization’s strategic plan is “on path” to fulfill its mission.  As discussions continue on a future direction for Chatham-Kent’s United Way, the Board of Directors welcomes the public’s input on how the 70 year old organization can continue to enhance its capacity to improve lives and build community.  Although efforts are currently underway to ensure that the CEO’s responsibilities are temporarily assumed by existing staff members, no firm decisions have yet been made on the appointment of a successor.

At the most recent meeting of the organization’s Board of Directors (2018 FEB 28), an overview was provided on how the local charity’s performance compares with United Ways across Canada and with those United Ways of similar market size.  United Way Centraide Canada has recently produced a dashboard for United Ways to track their performance against seven key indicators – including such metrics as dollars available per market million, months of unrestricted net assets, cost of fundraising ratio and donors per capita.  On all seven metrics, the organization ranked in the top 30% of the 101 United Ways in Canada (2016).  The local United Way ranked 8th in the country in terms of the amount of revenue available for investment per market million and 4th within our market size – signaling the fact that Chatham-Kent is a very generous community.

The Board also acknowledged Karen’s strong involvement in the voluntary nonprofit sector outside of her role as CEO.  She served as the first female member of the Rotary Club of Chatham in 1991 and as its President in 2000.  She currently serves as a member of the Community Leaders Cabinet and is Co-Chair of the Community Safety and Wellness Committee along with Chief of Police, Gary Conn.

When asked what the future holds for the retiring CEO, Karen noted that her “bucket list” is long … and includes a number of pursuits that will offer her an opportunity to continue to carry the United Way message of hope, strength, joy and belonging to those who need it most.