Walking the Talk

 Walking the Talk

United Way CEO J. Thomas Maultsby puts consulting into practice.

Mike Boyer

When business consultant J. Thomas Maultsby was named president and CEO of the United Way of the Greater Dayton Area, one local executive jokingly told him: “You’ve been out there telling everybody else what they need to do. Let’s see if you can walk the talk.”

Maultsby says, “It was funny, but it’s really true.’’

United Way of Greater Dayton, which marked the start of its second century earlier this year, was at a critical juncture when Maultsby was named president and CEO three years ago.

The nonprofit was struggling with flat giving in its annual campaigns, it faced growing competition from a variety of other annual giving efforts, and many of the deep corporate pockets that were staples of giving were no longer part of the Dayton economy.

CareSource President and CEO Pam Morris, who was United Way board chair at the time, turned to Maultsby, a longtime member of the CareSource management group board, when the former United Way CEO resigned days after the launch of its 2012-13 campaign.

Morris says she chose Maultsby because “he had a passion for helping people and being a part of social change. He was experienced in development and the needs of nonprofits and had served on the United Way’s leadership team early in his career.”

She says, “Tom is doing a great job taking a strategic look at how personal and corporate giving has evolved and matching that with a fresh outlook for the organization.”

Maultsby says, “I didn’t come here for a job or an opportunity. I came here because I really care about this community and I was confident I could transfer my skill sets and turn this thing around and give it a more business approach.”

He admits overhauling United Way, which serves some 350,000 people in Montgomery, Greene and Preble counties, wasn’t easy.

“It was an arduous change,” he says. “We had to change the processes, change the culture and we had to go outside and mend relationships.”

But at the same time, he says, “I know how to do this change work.”

He’s been a management and organizational consultant for a variety of large and small businesses and government agencies for more than 25 years. Maultsby, 64, says he wanted to be a business consultant even as a teenager growing in Washington D.C., where his mother was active in local politics.

“She’d have meetings at our house and some people would arrive in limos and big Mercedes. I said, ‘Mom what do these people do?’ She said. ‘They’re consultants.’ From that point forward I thought that’s what I want to do.”

While attending Wilberforce University pursing a business management degree he began helping local churches with their financial affairs.

“I really fell in love with service to people and that’s what consulting was all about,” he says.

He earned a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati in community planning and organizational development, and one of his first jobs was working for the United Way in Dayton.

He later worked for Price Waterhouse Coopers, American Management Association and as an independent consultant.

Maultsby, a longtime Sunday school teacher, has created a fellowship organization to help people deepen their relationship with God. Several years ago, he self-published a book of 23 inspirational poems he wrote entitled Meek.

“I’ve always had an interest in poetry but I don’t call myself a poet,” he says. “I never consciously sat down to write a poem. I was just inspired to do it. The words just came to me.”

Maultsby says he approached United Way like he would any business.

For example: “I looked at all our contracts and found close to $500,000 of stuff we didn’t need.” 

He’s also realigned United Way’s organizational structure, flattening it into three interactive teams: community impact, resource development (or fundraising) and finance and administration.

“When I came here, we had seven departments and about 40 people. Today we have 37 people and no departments.” 

United Way holds an annual fall fundraising campaign, but has moved away from that being its central focus. The campaign also has stopped announcing an annual fundraising goal for several years. 

“What we found when you tie it to numbers, given our size and dynamics, when it doesn’t happen, people see you has failing,” Maultsby says. “It’s fair to say we are trying to achieve above where we landed this year.”

The nonprofit is also using a consultative approach to its corporate campaigns, getting business to help set realistic giving targets and developing strategies to increase giving.

It is also looking at other ways of raising funds such as stepped up leadership giving, pursuing grants and foundation dollars, getting millennials more involved in projects they feel are important and using a mobile app that lets donors pick initiatives that are important to them.

“When you ask people what United Way does,” he says, “most people tell you we raise money and give it to agencies. That’s not what we do. We do raise money, but we invest it in a number of things based on research on what the community said is important.”

United Way of Greater Dayton Area has also embraced the global United Way’s collective impact business model to galvanize groups to pull together more resources to focus on mitigating, reducing or solving critical needs in the community. 

One example is the Freedom School initiative, a six-week program to avoid student “summer slide” by engaging children in reading and other cultural enrichment activities to maintain their learning momentum during the summer. United Way, with the Children’s Defense Fund and several other groups, supports the program. It engaged more than 460 children in seven different Montgomery County locations this summer. 

“What you find when these kids go back to school is they’re typically ahead of where they were when came to us,” Maultsby says. “They go back with a greater aspirations and inspiration for learning.” 

United Way is looking to expand the program into Greene County and eventually Preble County.

United Way is also working on mobile apps based on its HelpLink 2-1-1 hotline to help specific groups such as veterans and seniors get access to services they need.

Still, Maultsby says, there’s work to do.

“I kind of missed my mark,” he says. “I thought I could get this done in two years but it’s taken three. It’s not that we’re that big, but we’re that complex.”

With a new business strategy, a more diversified approach to giving, new ways to engage donors and better messaging, Maultsby says, “I think we’ve turned the corner.”