Leslie Headshot
Leslie Ann Howard, President & CEO, United Way of Dane County

After 33 years (25 of those as President & CEO) of serving the families and individuals of Dane County, Leslie Ann Howard will retire as President & CEO of United Way of Dane County on December 31, 2015.

“The United Way Board has been planning this leadership transition since Leslie shared her retirement plans a couple of years ago, “ says Nick Meriggioli, 2014 Chair of United Way of Dane County Board of Directors. “As United Way has demonstrated in all its work, it’s extremely important this transition is thoughtful and professional to allow the best possible outcome for our community. We have secured The QTI Group to manage the search process and recruited a top-notch succession/transition committee of local business and community leaders. The Board and I have complete confidence that the momentum of United Way’s work will continue to advance during this time due to Leslie’s hands-on leadership and the strong support of United Way’s staff and volunteers.”

During Leslie’s 33 years with United Way of Dane County, one of the most significant changes she led was the evolution of United Way from a fundraising organization to a community impact organization. This model was developed in direct response to the community’s feedback at numerous open forums to better understand the most critical issues in Dane County. From these conversations our community’s Agenda for Change was born—a series of seven targeted goals focused on measuring and creating significant impact in the areas of Education, Safety and Health. This impact model, first created here in Dane County in 2000, was a catalyst for other United Ways.

“The transformation Leslie led in Dane County served as a model for other local United Ways throughout the United States.  She was among the first to recognize and strengthen the links between impact strategies, community results, and the aspirations of donors, volunteers, and strategic partners that wanted to make a difference,” said Brian Gallagher, President and CEO, United Way Worldwide.  “It can be a complex business.  Leslie put all the pieces together and drove real change.  Her collaborative community-first approach made it possible.”

Leslie’s career with United Way spans from her first role as Director of the Volunteer Services Bureau to her current role as the President & CEO. During her tenure, Leslie has championed significant change and strategies in addressing the racial achievement gap, ending family homelessness, and many others.

“Every single decision made at United Way is guided and informed by the community and volunteers. To Leslie this is the most important element in United Way’s work,” says Noble Wray, Interim President of Urban League of Greater Madison. “Over my 20 years of volunteering and collaborating with her on solving community problems, I have seen her create positive and transformative change in the way our community is involved in active solutions to core issues.”

Through a civic journalism effort between Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV Channel 3 and in partnership with 100 Black Men, United Way initiated Schools of Hope (SOH) which uses an effective tutoring model providing trained tutors to work in concert with the teacher’s curriculum helping students get the additional academic attention they may need. A recent independent evaluation of SOH shows it’s significantly improving students’ reading. Over the past 17 years as Leslie’s top priority and passion, United Way has invested over $10 million in specific research-backed strategies to address the achievement gap and has deployed over 14,000 skilled volunteer tutors who have supported 57,000 community students as part of the SOH program.

“We are pleased to see students participating in Schools of Hope are showing significant gains in student literacy,” says Karen Menéndez Coller, Executive Director of Centro Hispano. “As a long-term partner, United Way under Leslie’s leadership has forged effective partnerships in our community that are getting results for our students. These relationships are a key element in fostering opportunity and closing achievement gaps.”

Ending family homelessness has been one of Leslie’s top priorities from the moment she entered her work with United Way. Seeing a persistent and troubling growing homeless population of families with young children, a revolutionary housing model called Housing First was instituted. In the Housing First model, families are first placed in stable housing and services such as case management, financial counseling, and employment support are provided to address the underlying issues that caused them to become homeless. Housing First works because families who are able to get into housing can turn their attention to jobs, health and parenting. Housing First is twice as effective at ending family homelessness but costs half as much as shelters.  In 2013, together with our partners, United Way has stabilized 2,200 Dane County families with school-age children.

Under Leslie’s leadership, United Way of Dane County’s revenues have grown from $5.5 million in 1989 to nearly $22 million in 2014. And, according to national United Way data, United Way of Dane County is the 5th fastest growing United Way campaign in the country.

The succession/transition committee will be led by Gary Wolter, President, CEO & Chairman of the Board of Madison Gas & Electric Company. He will be joined by a team of local community and business leaders. “The committee has every confidence that United Way of Dane County will attract a large and diverse pool of candidates both internal and external,” says Wolter. “Leslie has done a phenomenal job of leading this organization for the past 25 years. We are looking for the right person to take the organization to the next level of leadership and performance. ”

United Way of Dane County will continue to focus on work in the areas of Education, Safety, and Health with special focus on how poverty and employment touch all areas of our community.

“It has been an honor and privilege to serve our community for these three decades. I am so grateful for the trust, the support, and the friendships that have been so graciously extended. The relationships and partnerships we have built together are dear to me, “says Leslie Ann Howard, President & CEO of United Way of Dane County.

About  Our Community’s Agenda for Change


  • Children are cared for and have fun as they become prepared for school.
  • Students succeed academically and graduate from high school, regardless of race.


  • More people are on pathways out of poverty.
  • There is a decrease in family homelessness.


  • People’s health issues are identified and treated early.
  • Seniors and people with disabilities are able to stay in their homes.

 United Way engages our community mobilizes volunteers and strengthens local nonprofits to achieve measurable results and change lives.

About United Way of Dane County

United Way of Dane County is addressing the underlying causes of community issues through our community’s Agenda for Change—seven goals focused on three priority areas of Education, Safety and Health that our community identified as most critical to changing lives and strengthening Dane County. Through strategic partnerships and collaborative work, we are achieving measurable results toward making our community better educated, safer, and healthier. United Way provides organizations and individuals the opportunity to give, advocate, and volunteer to change the human condition in Dane County.