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Published: Thursday, 4/7/2005

United Way's new president hired to reverse goal slide

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kitson Kitson
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The United Way of Greater Toledo selected a new president yesterday, someone the organization hopes can turn around a lagging fund-raising effort that has failed to meet its goals four of the last five years.

Bill Kitson, 41, a vice president and second-in-command at the United Way of Greater Milwaukee since June, 2003, starts May 2 and will be paid $125,000 annually. He replaces Robert Lucas, president of the local United Way since 2000, who was making the same salary.

Mr. Lucas is taking a planned retirement and was not asked to leave the organization early, according to Tom Waniewski, chairman of the United Way board.

He said the board was impressed with Mr. Kitson's track record at the United Way in Milwaukee as well as his five years before that as president of the United Way of Champaign County, Illinois.

At the Champaign United Way, he helped increase fund-raising totals each year, even during the economic downturn of 2001. He boosted fund-raising totals in Milwaukee by 9 percent in the last two years.

The United Way of Greater Toledo, which serves Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties, has struggled. Last year's campaign came up short of its annual goal by about $700,000.

For four years, local United Way officials have seen a steady decline in financial support through pledges. Funding dipped to a recent low in 2003, when the campaign raised $12.3 million, nearly $1.2 million below the goal.

Mr. Waniewski said the days of just accepting the area's economic troubles as an excuse for poor fund-raising results are over: "We're tired of falling back on that as an excuse. The money is out there."

Mr. Kitson said he's looking forward to the challenges in Toledo and called his new position a "tremendous opportunity."

Those who have worked with him in Milwaukee say their loss is Toledo's gain.

"Toledo is very fortunate. They're getting a great person in Bill Kitson," said Sheila Cochran, a member of the Milwaukee United Way board. "He has the type of style where he is not afraid of challenges. Fund-raising is something he'll go after, and your community will benefit greatly from that. I'm sad to see him leave Milwaukee."

Mr. Kitson, who has been involved with the United Way all his professional life, said he stresses to communities that United Way and social service agencies must be open to new ways of working together and raising funds.

Ryan Daniels, a Milwaukee United Way volunteer and corporate relations director of a Milwaukee mortgage insurance company, said Mr. Kitson's new job means "Toledo is lucky, and Milwaukee will have a hole here."

He cited one recent example of how Mr. Kitson has been able to try new programs. The Boys and Girls Club in Milwaukee received a federal grant targeted to the poor that would match money they saved with some federal funds if private donors stepped in too. The money could be used for home purchases or higher education.

Mr. Daniels said Mr. Kitson pushed area banks hard to partner with the Boys and Girls Club, though it wasn't a United Way program, because it benefited the entire community.

"I think Bill is extremely committed to the community impact the United Way can bring," Mr. Daniels said.

Contact Luke Shockman at:

lshockman@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.



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