United Way Worldwide CEO facing uncertain future

United Way Worldwide CEO facing uncertain future

Even as it wrestles with changes in the fundraising landscape, United Way Worldwide is facing an investigation into allegations that president and CEO Brian Gallagher fostered a hostile workplace culture, the HuffPost reports. 

Following a HuffPost report in November that three women employees of the organization had filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging they were fired or ostracized after reporting misconduct to United Way's human resources department, other women have come forward, including more than twenty former employees who sent a letter to the board in December saying they also had experienced harassment and discrimination. A spokesperson for the organization told HuffPost that an investigation by a law firm is "scheduled to conclude shortly," although investigators have yet to contact any of the women who filed complaints with the EEOC.

A current employee at a major chapter of the organization told the HuffPost that the board was scheduled to meet last week to discuss whether it was time for Gallagher — who has made the NonProfit Times' annual Power and Influence Top 50 list eighteen times — to step down. "That he hasn't already been dismissed says a lot," the employee added. "It shows a lack of leadership on the part of the board. It's been well over a month; it's not like they haven't had the opportunity to fix it."

Meanwhile, as many as two hundred and twenty local United Way chapters have stopped paying dues to United Way Worldwide, whose employees face layoffs and economic uncertainty. Last week, according to the HuffPost, the organization laid off staff and announced pay cuts for some senior positions, with more layoffs expected to be announced later this month. While the organization said in a statement that the economic fallout from COVID-19 "has forced us to make difficult decisions," the core issue is the United Way business model, current and former employees told HuffPost, and a botched effort to modernize its fundraising that they blame on Gallagher. 

At the end of 2019, according to HuffPost sources, Gallagher announced a doubling of the dues local chapters must pay in order to "support [the organization's] ongoing digital and Network transformation work." The announcement sparked outrage at the chapter level, even though one reason for the increase, according to a person familiar with the situation, was that the organization allegedly had paid $50 million for a digital fundraising app it commissioned from Salesforce and was struggling to sell to its corporate partners. But after the pandemic hit and local chapters suddenly found themselves scrambling to address rising levels of hunger, homelessness, and joblessness, the increase was postponed to January 2021. With allegations against Gallagher popping up in the news cycle, however, more than 20 percent of United Way chapters have refused to pay the higher dues. 

According to HuffPost, current and former United Way employees point to Gallagher's  salary — $1.2 million in 2019 ― and question whether the organization has lost its way, while many local chapters wonder why they're being asked to hand over funds at a time of great need to a headquarters operation seemingly plagued by mismanagement. 

"There's a lot of disillusionment right now," said one current employee.

(Photo credit: United Way Worldwide)