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Banking on KC – Chris Rosson

Banking on KC – Chris Rosson

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking On KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon, thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Chris Rosson, the President and CEO of United Way of Greater Kansas City. Welcome Chris.

Chris Rosson:

Hi, thanks so much, Kelly. Thanks for having me.

Kelly Scanlon:

Congratulations on your new job. Although you have a short history, United Way here in Kansas City has a very long history. It's about a 100 years, I think. So tell us about that history and how Kansas City ended up with the United Way?

Chris Rosson:

United Way, as you said, here in Kansas City has existed for just a little over a 100 years. We were originally founded as a response to the Spanish flu pandemic that happened. So if you think about in terms of very timely nature, given everything we've dealt with, with COVID over these last 18 months, very much similar sort of orientation, which is that the community and civic leaders and the business leaders at that time really felt that there needed to be a way where they could address some of these issues that would face the region, and in a way that wasn't disparate, wasn't separate, but was really a united force and a united effort to take a coordinated approach to tackling some of those issues that were systemic or wide range in nature.

Chris Rosson:

And so, started in that way. I think in time, it evolved and those same leaders thought, as opposed to just being an incident response sort of organization, we really needed to leverage and harness that same community asset to drive at some of the more persistent and enduring challenges that any city faces, those of issues of education or health, or, poverty, and those issues evolved over time as community needs changed.

Chris Rosson:

Some might know, even in the early days, the organization was called Community Chest. And so those who have stayed up late playing Monopoly a time or two would probably recognize that name. It was so embedded and codified as part of society that it even lives in the culture and places like that.

Chris Rosson:

We in Kansas City had the great benefit of having many of the champions and real titans of our city over the years, and the families that have been so influential in shaping the region, who have really continued to make sure that United Way was a strong thriving force in our community, and that we were able to not only, again, meet and challenge some of those persistent challenges, but also be available when we have situation like we've had over this last time with COVID, and any sort of other sort of large scale events, that we could be very responsive and at the ready, in addition to tackling some of those things on a persistent basis.

Chris Rosson:

But one of the things that I feel very confident about, and one of the things I love about the United Way approach is that it really is a wide-ranging approach. It doesn't just rely on those who are the most privileged in society to get involved and make a difference, but it really relies on us collectively as a community coming together and tackling these things together.

Chris Rosson:

With that in mind, I think any great asset and any asset of any type is really only as effective or as good as it's well managed and it's routinely invested in. And thankfully, here in Kansas City, we've had a very strong tradition of the community doing just that.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah. You're so right about that, Chris. I know one of the things that I hear often is that one of the best things about United Way is it's really an example of Kansas City taking care of Kansas Citians, and as you say, it doesn't know any particular demographic. It's the entire community coming together to help the entire community.

Kelly Scanlon:

So with that said, you do have some main focus areas. Can you talk to us about that please?

Chris Rosson:

Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I love about United Way and what I think makes it so unique is that it really does take an ecosystem approach to transforming lives and transforming the community they're in. And so, as opposed to focusing on any one singular issue or any one singular topic, we really do comprehensively on a routine basis, really get a pulse for where the community need is.

Chris Rosson:

And then we tackle those issues in the ways that research and science would tell us are the most effective at actually changing the predictable outcomes in those areas. And so for us, at this point in time in our community, the three most enduring persistent challenges that we focus on are those of educational inequity, those of health outcome disparity, and those of poverty. And so, issues of economic empowerment and financial sustainability.

Chris Rosson:

And so, we do that work in a number of different ways. In some ways we invest in organizations that are at the front lines and making what we view as the highest possible yield impact against those areas. So that would be investments in organizations like Harvesters or Salvation Army, or Boys & Girls Club or Operation Breakthrough.

Chris Rosson:

Places like that you might have heard of, but there's also a whole host of organizations out of the 175 organizations that we support on an annual basis that you've probably never heard of, that serve a very specific population and they're making similar... They don't have large marketing or branding teams, but they have a really strong impact in the part of society here in our six Counties that they support.

Chris Rosson:

And then we also have a number of things that there's not necessarily one organization that's best positioned to do, and we play a really important collaboration role and a collective impact role in being the backbone to those efforts. And those include things like the work we do with Promise 1000, or our Student Attendance Initiative, or supporting other out-at-school program initiatives, and really trying to make sure that we're filling any gaps that exist at the ecosystem level as well.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us about how Kansas Citians access United Way's programs and services? Do they do it through your partners, the partners are the delivery system, or do you have some programs that you as the United Way specifically offer too?

Chris Rosson:

The primary way that folks would see our work is, again, through our reinvestment in other organizations that are doing important work, and that we've assessed it to be the most impactful in those areas, again, aligning that to community need. And so, if you think about in our city, we have about 25% of the population across the six Counties that make up the Metro, that are either at the poverty level or below, or their one life event from being there.

Chris Rosson:

And so, when we think about this work, it's not just an urban core issue. It's not just any one racial demo issue, it affects all of us in a really meaningful way. And the work of United Way, we have about a million, just over a million points of service in any given year. And one in three Kansas Citians are impacted by the work of United Way.

Chris Rosson:

And again, that work is done collectively in partnership, very much in spirit with our name, in a United approach, in partnership with organizations that are directly providing service. And then in other ways, they are through efforts like Promise 1000 or our other initiatives where we directly play a role in delivering those services.

Chris Rosson:

There are two other roles that United Way plays, and when you say, "How do folks access services?" One is whenever we, as a community have bigger issues that are timely, United Way ends up filling that gap. So if you think about during this last 18 months, COVID was obviously, a significant factor for the entire community, as well as nationally, internationally, of course.

Chris Rosson:

And so, we, along with Mark and LISC, and our partners at the Community Foundation put together the COVID Response and Relief Fund, and really in a short amount of time, we're able to marshal resources and get those back into the community in a very active and efficient way.

Chris Rosson:

And so, that's an example of a role we would play. The other thing would be our 211 operations. So if you're not familiar with it, it probably means you're in a good place in life and you don't need those supports. But for many, 211 is a very critical place where folks can call, and if they can't put food on the table that evening, or you've fallen on hard times, or you're in that sort of... You are having that life event that could really dramatically change your life and put you on a tailspin, into perpetual poverty, you can call 211 and we'll directly connect you with a Community Resource Navigator that will hear what you're dealing with, and will redirect you, and make sure that you get to the support you need, and you can get those services.

Kelly Scanlon:

Right. It sounds like there's a lot of flexibility though, between all of the community partners, the other organizations that you work with, and then your ability to provide, I guess, what you would call just-in-time response to specific situations. Like you mentioned the pandemic, and then with your 211 program for people who have kind of emergency situations.

Chris Rosson:

That's exactly right. When I think about my own life growing up poor and I end up relying on a lot of United Way services, and I didn't just need school supply drives or free health clinic services or before and after school programs. I needed all those things and at various different points along my journey, and whether I realized it or not, United Way was there supporting that journey along the way.

Chris Rosson:

And we play that role again for one in three Kansas Citians in any given year. And it really is hard to underscore the value and how transformative that can be, not just for the individual receiving those supports, but for generations to generations that come after them.

Kelly Scanlon:

I think it's important to mention that the funds that are raised stay right here in Kansas City. They aren't going outside of our community. They stay here in the Kansas City area. You have mentioned that one in three Kansas Citians have been beneficiaries of United Way programs.

Kelly Scanlon:

What are some of the other stats you can give us, or examples about the impact of the United Way?

Chris Rosson:

Really, when you think about the impact of United Way, it's really unparalleled. And actually, one of the things that I was shocked at, just the sheer size and scale of even coming to the organization and feeling like I had a pretty good idea of what United Way did, but then really being able to see the extensive reach. So when I talk about over a million points of service, to give some bit of context, in any given year, over 400,000 folks, really right around that half-million mark will receive some sort of food assistance through United Way supported efforts.

Chris Rosson:

In this last really only like eight months-ish, we've kept 150,000 plus families from being evicted, either through direct advocacy in the court system, or in providing some sort of rent relief or other sort of support. There are over 30,000 kiddos in our six County area that receive some sort of extracurricular support, before and after program, safe-haven support that they can go to. Nearly 200,000 folks in any given year, as a result of United Way's efforts, will receive some sort of healthcare support, either mental health resources, or direct health services.

Chris Rosson:

And so really, when you think about the size and scale, we like to say that everyone has a United Way story, that everyone is impacted in some way. And even if you, as an individual, haven't received services through and from, or part of United Way, you likely without question, know somebody or are proximate to somebody in your life that is.

Chris Rosson:

And so, when we think about it as a community asset, you really can't underscore its impact. I think that in a lot of ways, United Way, like any good organization, sort of operates like the wind, in some ways. There's sort of the impacts are felt everywhere, and yet they're not necessarily the most visible always. And I think that's how we like to operate in the impact space, is being ever-present, and also making sure that it's really about the service at the end of the day.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned that you've been a recipient yourself as you were growing up with United Way services. So tell us about the path that led you from receiving the benefit of the United Way as child, to now being the CEO of the United Way of Kansas City?

Chris Rosson:

It's a really deeply humbling and personal honor to lead this organization that has that 100-year history of making impact and knowing that I was one of the lives that was truly transformed by the types of opportunities provided. So I grew up east of Troost in Northeast Kansas City, right here in town, and I'm a Kansas City kid through and through.

Chris Rosson:

I grew up in a high violent crime rate neighborhood and a low-income household, and in the State's most ethnically and racially diverse zip code in the State. And growing up, I had the good fortune, because of a series of opportunities both inside and outside the classroom, to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school, the first person in my family to graduate from college and to go on to study at places like William Jewel and Oxford, and Johns Hopkins, and travel the world, and have a whole host of opportunities presented to me, again, because of those opportunities that I had growing up.

Chris Rosson:

And when I look back, I realize that United Way was supporting, or was behind so many of the points of service that I received along the way. And I have five daughters now, and their lives are starting on a fundamentally different, predictable life trajectory than mine was at the point of birth. And it's a 100% a result of the transformation that happened in my own life.

Chris Rosson:

And so, what I bring to the organization is both that firsthand experience and understanding of what it's like to be on the receiving end of these services. And also, as a living breathing example of the transformation that's possible when we, as a community support our neighbors.

Chris Rosson:

And that's, I think the big thing. When I think back to the support that I received, so often... If you were somebody that's listening to this and you supported United Way at any point in the last 20 years, you were a direct contributor to my life transformation, and I can't thank you enough for that.

Chris Rosson:

And oftentimes, when those gifts were made, whether they were through a workplace campaign or through a text to give, or made at any other sort of point along the way, when those things happened, you were supporting a stranger that you didn't realize. And so, I really am a big believer that the work of United Way as this sort of gravitational force for good, is really about transforming the community by transforming lives. And again, with touching one in three folks every year, it's very heartening to me to know that we are doing that work.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you talk about all these programs and all of the people, the lives that you touch, that requires a lot of funding. So talk with us about how you raise that money? A lot of people are familiar with it in the workplace. So for businesses that are listening, that may not really have given the United Way campaign a lot of thought, what would you say to them about how it works? And then also, what are some other ways that you get your funding?

Chris Rosson:

Yeah. So every fall we do run a big campaign to try to raise funds, again, mobilizing the collective generosity of the widest possible range of our society to give. And so, when I talk about transformation, I don't really view that just solely on the one in three that receive the services. I actually think that there's a real opportunity for transformation of the other two and three that aren't relying upon services to contribute, and to be part of that.

Chris Rosson:

There's very something very transformational about not just... I really guide my life by this notion that the world changes by your example, not your opinion. And so, it's one thing to talk about wanting a better city, a more equitable city. It's one thing to talk about wanting inclusive prosperity for all. It's another thing to get into action to do that, and you can do that in a whole host of ways. United Way plays such a pivotal and key leadership role in facilitating that.

Chris Rosson:

So of course, as you mentioned, one of the ways in which folks know us most often is through the workplace campaigns. And so, we do run a number of campaigns at your workplace, where employees have the opportunity to payroll deduct or make direct contributions. Oftentimes, those are matched by the employer, and it's a real way to get as many people as possible involved in this effort of transforming the city, and making a better place for all.

Chris Rosson:

And so, if you're a company that runs one of those, I would encourage you to get involved and be a part of that. If you're somebody that doesn't run one, please give us a call and we'd be happy to work with you to set one of those up. I think the other way, of course, we always receive direct contributions. So sometimes those are individual gifts, sometimes they're corporate gifts. So oftentimes they're planned giving gifts. And so, we play a role there too, and we're always open to that.

Chris Rosson:

We also receive funding through grants and other sort of Federal or State municipality kind of efforts. And then employers or companies also can look to us to do a number of other things that are maybe not as well known. One of the things that we can do is that we can work with a company to cater a specific list of things that they might want to invest in, and make sure that they can do direct investment into those issues that matter to their employee base.

Chris Rosson:

For those that would like to invest time, as opposed to financial resources, we support thousands and thousands of volunteers every year. Some through specific days of caring, others through targeted tailored events that are guided by the employers themselves, or other community groups that want to volunteer, get involved.

Chris Rosson:

And then one of the sort of lowest hanging ways that people can get involved is that oftentimes we get called upon, again in times of crisis or emergency, or by institutions who really need additional support. We put together care packages, and that's something that you can do. A company can basically pay a really small per-unit fee to have their staff members stuff and fill care packages for veterans, for those who are homeless, for students.

Chris Rosson:

And again, as a kid, these are the types of things that I received that I didn't realize how many hands had touched it and how much of the city was a part of those efforts, but it really did make a big difference in my life. And again, it may seem like a small thing, but sometimes you just need a small bit of help along the way. And none of us, I don't care who you are listening to this, got to where you're at in your life without some form of assistance along the way.

Chris Rosson:

And so, United Way really does fundamentally say that there're many ways that you can get involved. The smallest way, honestly, is just following us on social. So you can find United Way of Greater Kansas City on all the major social platforms and just follow, get involved, keep tabs on what's happening in the community, because I think awareness is always a first step here as well.

Kelly Scanlon:

I know that a lot of companies try to have fun with the United Way campaign in order to encourage participation. They have competitions and drives and all kinds of different things. What are some of the things that you have heard about that really work well?

Chris Rosson:

Yeah. There's a whole host of things. You're right that people, folks have done everything from floor by floor competitions, to cornhole tournaments, to various incentives, to raffles, to raffling away like Chiefs tickets, or days off, extra PTO days. Some companies offer jean days and things like that for folks who contribute.

Chris Rosson:

So really, the sky's the limit. There's no limitation on that. And we play a role in supporting that. So if you're a company that decides to get involved, and that's a route you want to go. Our relationship managers really work closely with you to share the best practices of what exists.

Chris Rosson:

And so, the companies that I think do the best job, it's really embedded in their culture. And we see this as really, an industry trend across the country where companies are better able to attract and retain high performing talent if they feel that they're not only engaged in their work and doing that work but they're also engaged in some meaningful activity, giving back to the community.

Chris Rosson:

And so, United Way really ends up being a one-stop shop for any company or organization regardless of size, to get involved in that work. And we make it super easy and simple for folks to get involved and do that. I live by a very simple life credo, which is have fun doing serious work.

Chris Rosson:

And so, when it comes to doing employee campaigns, I think the more fun we can have knowing that there's a serious outcome on the other end, the better off we all are.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's talk about the campaign that you're right in the middle of. You just kicked off the fall campaign for 2021 on September the 24th. If a company decides that they are interested in this, do they need to wait until next year, or is there still time to join this year's campaign?

Chris Rosson:

There's always time to join. There's never a bad time to get involved in shaping the world for the better. So if you're somebody that wants to get involved, you can reach out to us, check us on our website, reach out to the contact information, and we'd be happy to work with you to get something set up. It really is very straightforward and easy to get those things up and running, and we'd be happy to work with anybody that's interested.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned going to the website, if you're interested in participating, and you had mentioned earlier that there were so many different ways that companies, individuals can get involved from the funding level, to the volunteer level, and everything in-between. So for any of this information, you can go out to the website, tell us what the website is?

Chris Rosson:

Yeah. It's unitedwaygkc.org. Just go to the contact information page, you can reach out to us there. You can also message us directly on any of our social media platforms, or you can message me directly on LinkedIn or any other platforms, there you find me. We'd be happy to get in partnership with you.

Kelly Scanlon:

Chris, thank you so much for being our guest today, for sharing what the United Way does, how it has helped Kansas Citians for the past 100 years, how it helped you personally, and how you're going to be bringing that gratefulness to your new position here at the United Way. Just very, very thankful for all that you do, and best of luck on your current campaign.

Chris Rosson:

Thanks so much for having me, Kelly, and I really appreciate all you do to raise awareness as well. Thanks so much.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Chris Rosson for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Chris's story of benefiting from United Way services as he was growing up, and now serving as CEO and President of the organization is certainly inspirational, but it's not atypical of the hand-up Kansas Citians give one another through United Way.

Joe Close:

According to Chris, one out of every three Kansas City area residents access United Way services at some point in their lives. That means there's a good chance each of us knows someone who has benefited from United Way donations, neighbors, friends, family members, co-workers, or perhaps you and your family.

Joe Close:

The United Way represents the generous and giving spirit of Kansas Citians helping other Kansas Citians. We consistently demonstrate that we see value in supporting others in our own community. Country Club Bank has long been a supporter of United Way, and as we have for decades, we are now participating in the annual campaign.

Joe Close:

It's not too late to get involved in the 2021 fundraising campaign. If your business is participating, be sure to make your donation soon, and you can visit the United Way website to discover other ways to support the organization, its partners and their programs.

Joe Close:

Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.