United Way of Summit & Medina has launched an investigation into allegations made anonymously, purportedly by current and former employees. We understand this will naturally prompt questions from the community. Below is a Q&A to address at least some of these questions and concerns. We also invite you to read our Board Chair’s open letter to the community about this situation and a Fact Sheet about UWSM’s efforts to diversify and build programs that serve the community.
Q. Who sent the letter with the allegations about racism, sexism, nepotism and other problems in the workplace? You said you received a copy – likely by mistake. So, do you have names?
A. The letter was sent anonymously from a group of former employees so we don’t definitively know. We received an e-mail of the draft letter two weeks ago, July 24th from a specific former employee, who our Board Chair, Mark Krohn, called and told her that we received the e-mail, read the draft letter, are taking the allegations seriously. Given the severity and seriousness of the allegations, within 24 hours of receiving the letter, our board hired an independent, third-party investigator, Sindy Warren, to fully and completely investigate, provide findings and tell us if there is anything we did wrong and/or any way we can improve. We do and always have valued feedback and we want to provide a welcome and safe place for everyone, our team, board, donors, volunteers and all members of our community.
While we are aware of at least one of the organizers/drafters of the letter, to fully support an independent investigation in an atmosphere of open communication we have decided to not provide any names or e-mails we have connected to the letter. We have pledged transparency to the greatest extent possible and we are committed to that, but our first and foremost responsibility is to support this investigation, get the facts and make the right decisions based upon the findings.
We also don’t want to appear anything other than entirely respectful to our former employees that may be a part of this letter. We are always thankful and appreciative to receive any complaints and look into those complaints when they are received. While these former employees aren’t currently employed here, we value their work and prior contributions.
Q. Who has the investigator talked to so far?
A. Again, because we want to honor the independence of this investigation, we’re not going to go into those details. The investigator has interviewed CEO Jim Mullen, other members of our current team and she has scheduled interviews with former employees. I want to specially note that Jim Mullen has been very supportive of this investigation and has not been directly involved other than providing information Sindy Warren has requested.
We will add that we were disappointed and frustrated that Board Chair Mark Krohn personally reached out to one of the letter organizers/drafters to request her participation, but she has declined his appeals to cooperate with the investigation, as well as follow-up appeals from the investigator.
Q. Has the board been made aware of any employee complaints against CEO Jim Mullen
A. No, the board has not been made aware of any employee complaints against CEO Jim Mullen. It is our hope that everyone will not make any judgment until the investigation is concluded and we have all the facts.
Q. The letter has allegations of nepotism. Do any board members have spouses or family members working at UWSM?
A. Yes. Angela Lowery, Director, Financial Empowerment Centers, is the wife of our Board Member, Bill Lowery II. Bill Lowery abstained from any discussions as to evaluation and/or hiring of his wife. Angela reports to Tanya Kahl, Associate Vice President, Community Impact, and not to the Board.
Our Nepotism policy is as follows:
Origin Date: 10/13/2016
UWSM wants to ensure that the organization’s practices do not create situations that demonstrate a conflict of interest or favoritism. The process of employee hiring, and job transfers are included in this practice. Therefore, the hiring of close relatives, partners, those in a dating relationship or members of the same household are not permitted to be in a position that have a reporting responsibility to each other. Close relatives are defined as husband, wife, domestic partner, father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law, grandfather, grandmother, son, son-in-law, daughter, daughter-in-law, step relatives, cousins and domestic partner relatives.
Any employee who enters into a relationship or becomes relatives, partner or members of the same household and one of the parties is in a supervisory position, the individual in the supervisory role is expected to notify the President immediately of the relationship. Failure to do so can result in disciplinary actions up to and including termination.”
Q. What about the employee turnover rate that the letter talks about? Why are so many people leaving?
A. We have had a lot of changes in our employee ranks – matching the profound changes that we’ve made as an organization. As of March 2016, approximately 28 people worked at UWSM. Twenty of those 28 have resigned, been terminated or have retired.
Five years ago, we dramatically transformed who we are, what we do and how we attack our community’s challenges through data driven analysis, well thought through strategic execution plans and appropriate action and follow-up. We have seen the benefit of those decisions in our results, community impact and significant increase in resources under management (actual cash to invest in our community’s needs). When we began that exercise five years ago, we believed that some amount of turnover would happen simply due to being a different organization with different needs. Also in non-profit fundraising, it is fairly well known that turnover is an unfortunate part of the reality of that industry and world due to burnout and other issues. An article highlighting this challenge.
That being said, and while we did expect some turnover when we started this redesign, the allegations alleged in the letter require that we look deeply into how we are doing things and making certain we are doing the right things the right ways and promoting a healthy culture for all of our good people doing this great work. We look forward to the results of the investigation to help us know the answer to your question. If we can make improvements to reduce turnover, we obviously want to do those things.
Q. The letter said that employee performance plans are used as a form of punishment. How do you respond?
A. In 2015 we did not have a formal performance appraisal process. Under Jim Mullen’s leadership, we created a performance appraisal process which was implemented in 2016. As part of this plan, when an employee is not meeting agreed upon goals, they may be placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP). This PIP plan is an opportunity for the staff to work through the documented issues and assist the employee to better understand and meet expectations and support their/our work. In addition, all staff go through a first quarter goal review, a mid-year goal review and an annual performance review process. This process is consistent and one that allows for two-way feedback and communication related to goals and performance.
Q. What is the demographic breakdown (gender, race) of current UWSM employees?
A. We have 68 employees, 52 females and 16 males. We have 24 people of color and 44 Caucasian (white) employees.
We think it’s instructive to talk about the change here as well. Since 2014-15, UWSM staff increased from 28 to 68 people as our organization went through the significant change we’ve discussed. That profound change included a dramatic increase in staff diversity. In just the last five years, the number of diverse staffers has increased from 2 to 24 and now represents 35% of the total staff. Women staff members have increased from 22 to 52, 76% of current staff. And its not just staff, its leadership also.
Our senior leadership team also has undergone change since 2016. Here’s a comparison:
2016 Leadership Team
Current Leadership Team
4 Caucasian/white/3 People of Color
Q. The letter says you move donations around to make yourselves look good or meet goals. How does that work?
A. In terms of when we record a donation between fiscal years, we recognize a donation as campaign revenue at the time that we receive an unconditional promise to contribute to our organization in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. If it is received in March, it goes into one fiscal year. If it is received in April, it goes into the new fiscal year. Our auditors have procedures to ensure we are recording contribution revenue into the correct year and review that as part of their audit procedures.