Longtime United Way Worldwide (UWW) President & CEO Brian Gallagher announced he will step down effective March 1. The announcement comes a week after an investigation found that the Alexandria, Va.-based national office did not engage “in actionable harassment, discrimination, or retaliation” with respect to three employees who filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
A statement issued by UWW Board of Trustees Chair Juleiette Tuakli made no mention of the recently-completed investigation or other turmoil. In a letter to colleagues, Gallagher said he and the board had been working on a succession plan for the past two years. “We were actively working toward a transition for me sometime later in 2021 at the conclusion of a CEO search process. But, I and the board think it’s best for United Way if I step down as CEO sooner. It was important to me that I stay through this period so my colleagues and I could be cleared of any wrongdoing. That’s done; and now it feels like the right time,” he wrote.
The board will appoint an interim CEO by March 1 and is engaged with Diversified Search to facilitate the search for a new leader. A search committee will be established, comprising members of the board and local United Way leadership.
“Today, Brian Gallagher and the United Way Worldwide Board of Trustees mutually agreed to accept Brian’s plan to step down after nearly 20 years as leader of the organization,” the statement read.
“We are grateful for Brian’s four decades of leadership and service in the name of the United Way mission. Brian has always said that a great United Way leader is one who puts community interests first, their organization next, and their own interests last. Brian embodied that standard. He has seen us through numerous evolutions with the single-minded goal of building stronger communities and a stronger, ever-relevant brand. Throughout his tenure, he has never shied away from encouraging all of us to take bold, and often difficult steps, with an eye toward the future. We sincerely thank Brian for making United Way and our mission his life’s work.”
In his 561-word letter to United Way affiliates and staff, Gallagher said there was no merit found to allegations of misconduct after the organization thoroughly investigated them. “There is no evidence of a toxic or hostile culture. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely, just like almost any other workplace,” he wrote. “I am proud of my life-long commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. I am equally proud of the work done in those areas by our team at United Way Worldwide. Our commitment is real and our work is effective. This entire episode will not diminish United Way Worldwide’s commitment to the right of every woman, or any person, to come forward with any concern they might have, and to be heard and protected in that process.”
A veteran nonprofit CEO with an expertise in human resources and diversity but who asked to not be identified, told The NonProfit Times: “Sometimes when an organization is weathering or emerging from a crisis, a change in executive leadership is both symbolic and necessary. A CEO change signals stakeholders — especially the staff team — that their concerns have been heard. While it may be demoralizing in the short term to those who were loyal to the departing CEO, a fresh start with a new leader at the helm is a proven way to show the board’s commitment to restore the mission of a nonprofit to the forefront.”
Gail McGovern, president & CEO of the American Red Cross and a member of the sector’s Leadership 18, praised advances made under Gallagher. “Brian gave his entire career to the UWW, and it’s pretty unusual for someone in the non-profit to have such staying power. He cares deeply about the organization and took the helm during some rough waters. He introduced new technology that helped move the organization into the 21st century.”
Tina Tchen, president and CEO of Time’s Up Foundation, issued a statement hours after the news. “We commend the women whose bravery in coming forward about United Way Worldwide’s culture of fear and retaliation ultimately brought forth this much needed change. It is our sincere hope that this change in leadership is accompanied by a profound change in the way that the organization treats its employees,” she said. “While our fight for safe, fair and equitable workplaces does not stop here, one thing is clear: we are never going back to the days when sexual harassment and retaliation remained in the shadows.”
UWW retained Proskauer Rose LLP in November to conduct an independent investigation into the “manner and processes by which management handled recent allegations and the extent to which policies were followed in addressing them.” The investigation and Proskauer’s work were overseen by a special committee composed of members of both of United Way’s independent governing boards, with independent counsel from the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP advising the special committee.
In addition to the EEOC complaints, as many as 200 affiliates apparently have been considering withholding dues to the national office this year, according to reports published by The Huffington Post.
Gallagher joined United Way in 1981 and led several local affiliates. He became CEO of United Way of America in 2002 and subsequently became CEO of United Way Worldwide in 2009. He’s been recognized each year since 2003 in The NonProfit Times’ Power & Influence Top 50.
As a network, United Way and its more than 1,100 U.S. affiliates reported total revenue last year of about $4 billion, including $3.4 billion in public support. The national headquarters reported revenue of almost $250 million in the Fiscal Year Ending December 2019, the most recent tax form available. That year, Gallagher earned total compensation of $1.5 million, including base compensation of $548,784, bonus and incentive compensation of $630,170, and retirement and deferred compensation of $353,263.
“United Way is at a pivotal moment regarding how to become a more modern organization, including how to truly work together as one network,” Gallagher wrote. “It’s the right opportunity and challenge for a new leader.”
Editor’s note: The original story was updated the morning of Feb. 10 to include statements from Brian Gallagher and Tina Tchen.