By: Shelley Widhalm

2020 BIzWest Giving Guide – The Buisness of Philanthropy

The Foothills United Way wanted to increase its efficiency both in house and for the communities it serves and asked the much larger Mile High United Way about a potential merger.

“Why aren’t United Ways working together? It seems like we could have greater economies of scale,” said Carlos Pacheco, board member for the Mile High United Way and former chairman of the board for the Foothills United Way, where he served for six years. He is the chief executive officer of Premier Members Credit Union in Boulder.

By merging, the two United Ways are able to consolidate administrative costs and redirect redundant spending in back office operations to the communities they serve, said Pacheco, who lives in Louisville and is one of two board members from the Foothills United Way who joined the Mile High United Way board.

“This has been really a flawless integration of our work … when you bring together two organizations that share the same vision and effort,” said Gina Nocera, vice president of community impact for Boulder and Broomfield counties for the Mile High United Way.

Before the merger, the Mile High United Way, founded in 1887, served five counties in the metro Denver area, and the Foothills United, founded in 1922, served two, those of Boulder and Broomfield counties. As one entity, the Mile High United Way, which absorbed Foothills in a transaction completed July 1, serves Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties.

The consolidation aligns with the retirement of Doug Yeiser, president and CEO of Foothills United Way, who had been with United Way for 30 years. Christine Benero, president and CEO of Mile High United Way, now serves in the role for the combined operations.

Benero commended the Foothills United Way for evaluating the agency when Yeiser retired.

“It takes tremendous vision and leadership for what the Foothills United Way board of directors did,” Benero said, adding that the result strengthens both organizations.

Four of the eight staff members at Foothills joined the staff of 105 at Mile High, which is one of 13 in the state. Yeiser and another staff member retired, and two took other positions.

“It was kind of a culmination of events, one being that CEO Doug Yeiser was retiring. He led the organization for six to seven years, and we had been doing a lot of work with the Mile High United Way, and it just seemed like it would make more sense economically and outreach-wise to combine forces and get the metro area of Denver and the Boulder and Broomfield areas all connected,” said Geoffrey Keys of Boulder, a board member of Mile High coming from the Foothills board, where he served for three years. Keys is also owner of Keys Commercial Real Estate in Boulder. “It gave the Foothills United Way depth and access to resources the Mile High United Way had.”

The merger offered several benefits for the Foothills United Way, such as access to a greater number of programs that it didn’t have before and opportunities for additional partnerships, Benero said.

“The overall benefits, I hope, will be more resources, more support and more partnerships to serve more people in the Denver metro area, which includes Boulder and Broomfield,” Benero said. “We have a very strong corporate partnership team that is able to work with corporations and businesses in Boulder.”

Foothills started the United Way of Day of Caring 25 years ago that Mile High United Way now has access to. The day brought together 1,200 volunteers this fall, including individuals and employees, who helped on projects from yard work to construction and helped 60 local nonprofits.

Mile High will take on Foothills’ Personalized Investment Enterprise, or PIE, that provides individuals with educational, business and other investments, and the United Neighborhood Strategy that maps out resource needs of individuals in the local community.

“When we put the two organizations together, it helped all of us in terms of our outreach and our ability to provide programs,” Keys said. “We’re able to reach more individuals and families in a more efficient manner.”

The merger also resulted in a change in office space for the Foothills United Way, while the Mile High United Way retained its office base in Broomfield. The Foothills United Way sold its office in Lafayette and since February has had a local presence as Mile High in new office space in Boulder, where it didn’t have an office before but will be able to expand coverage there.

“The key is to make sure we are still connected to what I call the fabric of the communities,” Pacheco said. “We can centralize everything, but we need a presence in the counties. … Having that presence we understand what the community needs are.”

United Way’s approach to fundraising between the two entities will remain the same, Keys said. The efforts include individual donations and employee engagement campaigns where employees agree to donate part of their paychecks to United Way, which then distributes the money to their chosen local charities.

“I don’t anticipate we’re going to see much of a change,” Keys said. “It will probably be more efficient, and we’ll have better marketing materials with the advent of the merger. Mile High has a solid marketing platform and people on staff to help with that.”

The merger benefits companies that have several locations in the area even if they are headquartered in Denver or Boulder. Employee engagement campaigns can be centralized through a single entity instead of spread over two, resulting in a more consistent approach and one that is easier on the individual employers coordinating efforts with their staffs.

“It was the best decision,” Keys said. “In retrospect, I think we wished we had gotten the benefit of being with Mile High some time ago. … To the outside eye, I don’t know that anybody would notice a difference from Foothills to the Mile High United Way.”

United Ways merging like Foothills and Mile High likely will be more common in the future, Pacheco said.

“It’s going to be the architecture for tomorrow and the future for these kinds of organizations,” Pacheco said. “We’re taking the best practices across both. … We have more money going back into the communities that we want to serve and help improve. Our rallying cry is ‘Live United, Give United.’ What we did in this consolidation is Work United.”