Published by BRAVA Magazine, January 2016
Madison, Wis. – “PASSIONATE LEADER WITH VISION TO CHANGE THE HUMAN CONDITION IN DANE COUNTY.”
That’s the opening statement on Renee Moe’s resume.
This month Moe takes the helm as president and CEO of United Way Dane County, succeeding Leslie Ann Howard, who has served the organization with nationally recognized success for 34 years.
In the smallest of nutshells, United Way is a convening organization that tackles the fundamental causes of major community issues through collaborative education, income and health initiatives. But it is no small organization: Its 57 employees coordinate 157 programs and collaborate with 110 community partner agencies, businesses and nonprofits; thousands of volunteers who commit over 40,000 hours of time; and a 2015 budget of $24 million. It is the second largest funder of health and human services in Dane County, behind Dane County itself and ahead of the City of Madison.
And therein lies the heft of its influence, and the weight of Moe’s responsibility. But Moe is not daunted. Her zest for her work comes with a joyful and passionate heart. “How lucky to find a job so early in your career that aligns with your values,” she says. “It’s a real gift to do this job and have work and a life so connected.”
Moe began her United Way rise as a college intern, and was formally hired while still in her senior year at UW–Madison, her potential recognized even then. Now 18 years later, she’s held seven different positions there, gaining both depth and breadth of organizational knowledge. And friendly firepower: She has raised over $257 million for the organization and broken fundraising records.
Moe has reach. She’s been honored as a YWCA 2015 Woman of Distinction and received the Wisconsin Women of Color Network’s Power of Unity recognition. She’s a past president of Rotary Club of Madison, and is active in 17 community and leadership organizations.
“She has tremendous relationships in the community across all sectors. She has the vision and understanding and ability to bring the community together to do the work—especially now with the issues we’re facing,” says Howard, citing the racial achievement gap, homelessness, hunger, poverty and early childhood gaps. “She brings people to the table.”
While the organization will continue with its goal-specific Agenda for Change strategies in education, health and income priority areas, Moe has visions of digging deeper, leveraging more community collaborations and wrapping in more voices, especially from smaller nonprofits and organizations serving communities of color. She wants to align the Madison community’s goals and stack resources and concentrate efforts for more impactful, lasting change. “We are in the business of human change. We can’t do that alone,” she says.
Among Moe’s own aspirations— if, she emphasizes, the community concurs—would be to ensure every baby in Dane County has access to quality early learning programs— and everything that must come with it, including parental supports. She’d also address the affordable housing inventory crisis—a “huge” issue.”
Moe, who grew up bi-racial in rural white Wisconsin, had an a-ha moment during her formative years that made her feel that “different” was not normal. She realized, If I didn’t fit anywhere…I could fit everywhere. And that others could, too.” It informs her core values today: help others feel connected, like they belong; help others add value to their own lives, and the lives of others.
If you had to boil that all—the a-ha’s, visions, aspirations—down into an essential goal for Moe, it is this: to distill the community’s narrative, and increase its will for change.