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Will Jane McIntyre win hearts and minds for the United Way?

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Scandal, tough economic times and a lack of trust greeted Jane McIntryre on Aug. 26 — the day she assumed her new role as executive director of the United Way of Central Carolinas.

She stepped into the shoes of fired director Gloria Pace King, who is currently suing the organization after she was let go when news of her salary became public.

Donations to the United Way dipped when, according to an article published in the Charlotte Observer on Aug. 6, King's $2 million supplemental pension became a major thorn in the organization's side. The news of King's salary came on the heels of a record-setting $45.3 million campaign. In 2009, however, donations were down by $15 million.

Last August, the United Way tried to explain King's salary in a statement, saying, "the continued success of our United Way is threatened by an erosion of public confidence and trust resulting from the current controversy over compensation, including the supplemental retirement benefits for president Gloria Pace King. While such supplemental retirement plans are not uncommon for top United Way executives, it has become increasingly clear that the retirement package exceeded what our community expects for a leader of a nonprofit organization, no matter how successful the organization. The board of the United Way of Central Carolinas has listened, and the community's reaction can lead us to only one conclusion: We made a serious mistake."

King countered her firing with a wrongful termination and discrimination lawsuit that, as reported by the Observer, was partially dismissed in federal court. It was also discovered this spring that King may have billed the United Way for personal expenses and the group stopped paying her salary.

McIntyre, who previously served as the CEO of the YWCA, has experience turning around organizations -- as illustrated with her re-establishment of the YWCA's mission to improve the lives of women, children and families. But what are her plans to win back donors to the United Way?

Under her leadership, McIntyre promises that the United Way will be more open, available to the media and communicate what the agency is doing in the community for people.

"[The United Way] really does make a difference to thousands of people in our region and in the community, but that message somehow got lost," said McIntyre. "We somehow have to get it back focused on that."

With less than one week on the job, McIntyre's proving she may be what the United Way needs to get people giving again. Two weeks before the annual campaign kickoff, the Leon Levine Foundation gave the agency $1 million "to inspire new gifts to the United Way of Central Carolinas' Community Care Fund [the money that funds the services provided by local United Way agencies] during the 2009 annual campaign," said a recently distributed release.

"We realize when trust is lost, it can take a long period of time to regain it. Sometimes you never regain people's trust. But we will work at it. That's the only way we can do it. It will take a while," she said, "but I am confident that this community, Charlotte and this region is a very philanthropic and giving community."

This year's campaign goal of $22.7 million is just $1 million more than what was raised for the Community Care Fund last year, the United Way said. The goal, however, is a far cry from the $44 million goal of two years ago.

"This year we're really going to focus on the dollars that don't go out of state or go to other organizations. We're going to count the dollars that go directly to our agencies in the region. The goal will be set very specifically to the Community Care Fund. That goal is not going to be like the goal the year before last," she said. "All donations are good, but United Way was created in the early 1930s to do nothing but help with the urgent health and services needs that face our community."

McIntyre draws from her work at a United Way agency to see what the organization can do and needs to do in the community to continue helping people in need. She said she appreciates the impact that the money from the United Way has on people.

"I understand what it does, and I also believe I understand the void that it would leave in this community if we did not have the dollars raised," she said.

That void is why donors like Toby Durham continue to donate to the United Way. "Back in the day I used to work with Hope Haven, and a portion of my paycheck went to the United Way. I've continued to donate," he said.

And while Durham isn't highly critical of King, he said the changes at the United Way need to happen on the board of directors.

"The board gave her that salary. They are the ones who need to go."

The United Way's fundraising campaign kicks off on Sept. 10 and donors -- through their donations -- will show if they are ready to trust the organization again.

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