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United Way makes quick CEO change

With Debi Meeds signaling her exit in August, board promotes Greg Burris to top spot

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United Way of the Ozarks President and CEO Debi Meeds in early June announced her plan to retire. A few weeks later, her successor was appointed.

The clock was ticking for local board members, as Meeds final day is slated Aug. 1. They acted swiftly to select Greg Burris.

Burris, just a year removed from the Springfield city manager office, has led the United Way of the Ozarks’ Give 5 volunteer program he founded while at the city since last summer. He will step into the nonprofit’s CEO role Aug. 2.

“He knows Springfield,” Meeds said of Burris. “I think he’s very forward-thinking, and he has a lot of energy and optimism about where the United Way can go.”

Meeds has served five years in the top spot for United Way, following a 25-year stint with the American Red Cross. She’s credited for leading the implementation of Connect Springfield, a coordinated case management system, and for utilizing multiagency resource centers.

The search
Eric Bilyeu, the search committee chairman, said the group interviewed six candidates of the 20 qualified local and national applications submitted. The job was posted online at United Way Worldwide, the local agency’s umbrella organization. 

While the interview process began in mid-June, Bilyeu said he was confident the committee would find the nonprofit’s next CEO before Meeds’ departure in August – but he didn’t know it would be so soon.

Prior to Burris’ selection, Bilyeu said the ideal candidate would be able to lead the United Way of the Ozarks through the changing dynamic of nonprofit fundraising.

“We’re looking for someone who is an agent for change, someone who has a history of connections to our community, and someone who understands the Ozarks and the companies and organizations that we have in the Springfield area,” said Bilyeu, who works as division controller for Associated Wholesale Grocers. “But we are looking for the best possible candidate we can get that will lead us through this process of change.”

Longtime donors of the United Way of the Ozarks are beginning to retire, and the newer workforce tends to donate in a different way, such as through a mobile app, he said. The local nonprofit has an annual budget of $5 million, which includes funding for the Community Partnership of the Ozarks.

Brad Crain has served as chairman of the board and the executive committee for two years before Bilyeu stepped into the position in May. Crain said the nonprofit has collected more online donations and that donors want to be able to see the impact from their donations to the United Way.

The local United Way received 233 online donations in 2018, totaling over $30,000, which is up 40 percent from the prior year. In 2016, nearly $17,000 was raised through 151 donations.

According to an article by Time magazine late last year, charitable giving trends for 2019 include using technology to organize support – such as crowdfunding and mobile donations – as well as giving larger amounts less frequently.

The local United Way chapter’s revenue has held steady around $5 million since 2015, according to Form 990s filed with the IRS.

Crain, the CEO and president of Arvest Bank, said the donor trends aren’t unique to the Ozarks but follow a national trend. He said the nonprofit’s board and staff have met with other United Way organizations across the region for best practices in meeting the new needs of their communities.

Last year, Burris had completed a listening tour of local leaders about how to improve the United Way chapter when he first joined the nonprofit as executive in residence and executive director of Give 5. He said another listening tour among the nonprofit’s 22 partner agencies is now on his docket.

Burris also will continue to lead Give 5 and help the local United Way chapter license the program to other communities throughout the country. Burris agreed to an annual salary of $120,000 for the two positions, Bilyeu said. Meeds said she earned just over $100,000 a year.

However, Burris, 57, hadn’t planned on entering into another top leadership role.

“This is really not what I was planning on doing,” he said. “But the more I got involved with the board and with the staff, and I saw the passion they had for what we’re doing and saw what our potential is, I got excited about what the possibilities are in terms of innovation and creativity.”

Next: Volunteer
Meeds may be retiring, but she isn’t done volunteering. 

The 68-year-old plans to continue her disaster relief work as the newly elected state chair of the Missouri Governor’s Faith-Based and Community Service Partnership, and she will continue her 10-year position as chair of the Greene County Community Organizations Active in Disaster.

She’d been thinking of retiring since the start of the year but waited to set her date for August in order to wrap up tasks at the nonprofit, especially with this summer’s Day of Caring campaign.

Meeds said she thinks her work with the community case management systems and the MARC are her two greatest accomplishments at the nonprofit. Both techniques were used during her time in disaster relief work at the American Red Cross, she said. Her goal when becoming CEO was to find a way to move the United Way forward in the community; implementing these techniques did just that, she said. 

Crain said Meeds was instrumental in strengthening the nonprofit’s relationship with other local organizations.

“When she came on board, we had a real need in the United Way to strengthen the relationships with the agencies we work with, and she’s done a tremendous job revitalizing that portion of what the United Way does,” he said.

The local chapter of the United Way works through 22 agencies, including American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks, and The Kitchen, to fund community programs in health, education and financial stability, according to its website. The chapter has a 10-person full-time staff and 2,410 volunteers.

“It’s been a blessing to serve here,” Meeds said. “We have a really connected, collaborative community that truly cares about those that need our services.” 


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