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United Way chief works to make a difference
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Scott Crane is president of the United Way of the Quad Cities Area.
DAVENPORT -- Scott Crane, president of United Way of the Quad Cities Area, helps make dreams come true for untold numbers of people each year.

"For me, this is about the best job anyone could have, a great position to be in," said the 53-year-old native of Sioux Falls, S.D. "I work with just fantastic people who are really interested in making this place a better place to live."

"One of the perks with this job: the staff and volunteers are absolutely committed to the community," Mr. Crane said. "Volunteers have told me they do their job for the money and come to United Way to get satisfaction."

In its 2011-2015 strategic plan, the 22-employee nonprofit aims "to change lives in the Quad-Cities by both helping people immediately in need and creating community solutions to reduce those needs in the future." United Way's worldwide focus is on education, income, and health "by convening, collaborating and/or investing resources."

"It's different work for us. It's not just raising money," Mr. Crane said of the plan adopted in December 2010. "It's trying to convene the community around these issues. Look at high-school graduation rates. We will not be able to make a difference in graduation rates on our own. It hasn't happened yet. We work with the Community Foundation, schools, foundations, the chamber, through Achieve Quad-Cities. That's what we need to be doing in health and income."

In years past, United Way traditionally has served as a repository for charitable giving, with annual fundraising that has grown from $6.6 million in 1991 to $10.6 million in 2010 -- which it in turn distributes to more than 90 agencies in the area that apply for funding. This year, the campaign goal is $11.4 million, rising to $15 million in 2015.

"The goal is to get better at what we're doing, understanding what the needs are, where donors' passions are," Mr. Crane said. "The goals in (the strategic plan) aren't five-year goals. They will go beyond that. If in 10 years, with graduation, every kid has the opportunity to be successful, we have really reached a milestone. You have people in generational poverty, and we really need to give them skills necessary to be self-sufficient."

"Our scope is much larger," he said, noting United Way is doing more in leading and partnering with others to make community change. "With this new focus, we're looking at our donors -- corporate, individual, and matching up their interests, not just United Way, but change as a community. No one organization or government entity is going to make a difference on the issues."

United Way holds funded agencies accountable for achieving outcomes.

"If a program is not demonstrating a level of success, they'll provide some warnings, support if needed," Mr. Crane said of United Way committees. "That's their responsibility to do. Programs are never guaranteed of getting funded. It's not meant to be an entitlement.

"We're holding ourselves accountable," he added. "We want to be responsible for making change in these areas. It's going to be pretty aggressive, but it needs to happen."

After earning his bachelor's degree from South Dakota State University, the future chief executive was an Air Force pilot for six years, based at Clovis Air Force Base in New Mexico. He got his MBA degree from Eastern New Mexico University.

After Mr. Crane moved back to Sioux Falls in 1989, he took a job for 11 months at a mental health center teaching job skills.

"It paid next to nothing, but it was a job and I was glad to do it," he said. "My brother was very active in the business community, involved in United Way, in its marketing committee. A position (at United Way) came open running investments, on the planning and allocation side, in 1990." Mr. Crane has been with the organization ever since, now at his fourth affiliate.

"Working for a mental health agency was really hard. Front-line social work was incredibly challenging," he said. "It's not for everybody; it certainly wasn't for me as a career. It exposed you to folks with real needs. Working with United Way, we're not on the front line, not really touching those people, but at the same time, the work we're doing allows those agencies to function."

After becoming vice president for the Sioux Falls United Way, Mr. Crane headed agencies in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for five years, and Fargo, N.D., for eight, before joining the Q-C group four years ago. He doubled Fargo's giving from $2.5 million to nearly $5 million when he left, and said the Midwest tends to strongly support United Way, in dollars and volunteerism -- both crucial to success.

"It just responds very well to United Way, and that's what we've found here -- very strong business support, very good leadership," Mr. Crane said.

"With the tough economy, needs are greater, and there are challenges in fundraising," he said. "The 2008 campaign was a great illustration of this community stepping up. That was probably the low point with the economy in the community, people getting laid off. And if you weren't, you didn't know how long you'd be working. At the same time, those people working dug in, and they gave. It speaks real well for this community."

Of companies that offer payroll deductions to support United Way, an average of 22 percent of workers contribute, and Mr. Crane thinks that should be more than 30 percent.

"Over the last 10 to 15 years, we're seeing participation drop. People who are giving are giving more, but there are fewer people giving, which is not sustainable," he said. "As we look at the system, at this community, we need to understand what can drive those donors back and get excited." For example, people who volunteer are more likely to donate, Mr. Crane said. "People see the need. It's eye-opening."

"We know that programs are seeing a higher demand. They tell us that every year," he said. "They're seeing bigger challenges with resources, especially those that rely on state and federal money."

As the economy improves, United Way must keep the momentum going -- increasing giving and gift size.

"Areas of growth in our United Way and across the country are in specialty groups like women's, young leaders, basic leadership giving," Mr. Crane said. "That's where your opportunities are -- get more people engaged, make the argument, give people an understanding of the problems."

For the first time in his career, United Way here is running two campaigns -- the traditional year-long one (including grants, foundation support and money for operational and fundraising costs), and also a two-year $2.7 million campaign through the Women's Leadership Council for enhancing early childhood opportunities. That's focused on "education, getting kids ready for school," Mr. Crane said.

Mr. Crane said he also loves working with the hundreds of volunteers that make everything run, from boards and programs, to the agencies that depend on them.

"You get some of the best minds in the community. United Ways have always been fortunate to get top-level people to volunteer for us," he said. "And I like the fact there's a lot of variety. It's not the same thing day in and day out."

Living the dream

Who: Scott Crane, president of United Way of the Quad Cities Area

Quote: "For me, this is about the best job anyone could have, a great position to be in."

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