Michelle Van Dyke transitioned from a career in banking to become president and CEO of the Heart of West Michigan United Way in Grand Rapids at a time when nonprofit organizations need to adjust to how a younger generation contributes to causes. Van Dyke spent more than 30 years in executive leadership positions at the former Old Kent Bank and Fifth Third Bank. She spoke with MiBiz about the transition to the United Way, where she started Jan. 18, and the changing fundraising dynamics for nonprofit organizations.
What made you decide to make a career transition from banking to the nonprofit world?
To follow a passion of mine. I have always thought that I would run a nonprofit as a second career when I was done with banking. This was the right opportunity at the right time, and I realized that if I didn’t make the move now, I probably never would. At this point in my career, I still have another 10-plus years to give, but if I didn’t make the move now, it just wasn’t going to happen. It was the perfect time and it’s an organization that I’m passionate about, so it just fits well.
What makes it a good fit for you?
I just have a love for this community and making this the best possible place that we can for everyone who lives here. I also have a passion for giving hope to people who are underserved, underprivileged and this is just a great way to be able to put that passion into action.
How do you think your experience in banking prepared you for this role?
Just being a business leader for 30 years — that’s really the biggest benefit to an organization like the Heart of West Michigan United Way. I can come in and, through a different lens, lead this organization through strategic planning, through change that we have to go through, and really start to innovate and just lead the group of 45 people who work for this organization.
From a banking perspective, knowing the numbers and knowing the financials is helpful, but even more important is how the emphasis we always put on outcomes applies in the not-for-profit world, and especially at the United Way. We look at not how many loans did I make yesterday, but how many lives do we impact. That’s a very, very similar way to look at things in terms of outcomes, but relatively different in how we impact this community.
What are the different dynamics you see between for-profit businesses and nonprofit organizations?
For me, the biggest difference is managing to a balanced budget — a zero-based budget, if you will, at the United Way — versus in a for-profit organization, you’re maximizing profits every day. So there’s a little bit of a different balance, but I think it’s rather fun to be able to think about how do we bring dollars in and how do we spend those dollars to make the most impact. How do we leverage the dollars that we bring in to do even more good out in the community? That’s a different way of thinking.
There’s been research the last few years about how the generation coming of age differs in how it gives and supports philanthropy. How does that affect the United Way’s fundraising?
A great percentage of our revenue comes through workplace campaigns. That is not how millennials choose to give. That is not going to be the formula that works for us long term, so we have to figure out how to innovate that whole campaign process for the United Way going forward.
To attract and hook the Millennials, you have to think a little bit differently. You have to get them connected to the mission of the organization. They do want to see outcomes and they want to be very hands-on in terms of how they’re driving those outcomes. So we have to think about how we bring them in as volunteers, for instance, and let them touch and feel what we do — give them real, tangible things that they can volunteer for and see the impact that they’re having in the community and where their dollars are well spent. That’s how we get them in and that’s how we get them to be donors of the organization.
Any answers yet?
Not yet, but they’re all things that we’re working on in terms of how do we view this differently. We’ll sit as a leadership team and talk about how do we rethink and reinvent the way the United Way operates and strategically think about how we innovate. Then we’ll start to come up with some of those answers. The United Way and the way we operated 10 years ago will be very different and look very different than we will 10 years from now.
Does the time a person spends with the organization as a volunteer become a bigger part of the giving equation?
It all matters. We certainly need dollars to continue the work that we’re doing. That’s never going to change. But we also have to look at how we get people invested in the work that we do and that comes in the form of volunteer hours.
Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez. Courtesy photo.