Meet United Way of Central Iowa's New President

Posted by Sarah Welch on Jun 1, 2017 10:19:26 AM

33924672100_4f358b965e_o (1).jpgElisabeth Buck took the helm as United Way of Central Iowa's President this May. As we welcome her to this role, we've taken a moment to ask her a few questions about her leadership style, what she hopes to accomplish, and what she loves most about Des Moines. 

Describe your leadership style in three words.

Collaborative. Passionate. Community-focused.

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What’s one thing you have learned from your time working with your predecessor Mary Sellers?

She is someone who, even when pushed for an answer to a question, takes her time to think about things, and if she needs to, she allows herself more time to be deliberative. She is strategic in her decisions. As she worked with this team through the alignment of our values, mission, and strategies, there were times, I think, when it would have been easier to say, “Here’s the core values,” and have her come up with them, but she allowed us to have lots of meetings and allowed us to work through the process. The process not only let us get to the answers, but it built a team.

What’s one thing you hope to accomplish in your first few months as president?

For me, it’s not about accomplishing, but more about listening and learning. I’m not somebody who comes into a new job and the first day says, "We’re going to do x, y, and z." I will feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in the first few months if I listen and learn from all the key people who have come before me and who are close to United Way.

What are you most proud of achieving in your former role as chief community impact officer for United Way?

"I’m really proud of the team. The team I’ve had the pleasure of working with are passionate, bright, and go above and beyond every day to try to make this a better community."

There have been so many initiatives launched in the past six years. Everything from OpportUNITY, HealthWorks, READ to SUCCEED, clarity around the health goal, and 5-2-1-0. We had the Community Goals for 2020 and program-level goals established, but we benchmarked it all in the last few years and emphasized the alignment with the goals. We realigned our volunteering and advocacy efforts to the goals. It’s a lot. The team deserves all the credit for the work we have accomplished.  

Is there a past experience that has shaped you into the leader you are today?

I’ve worked for amazing people in a variety of public- and private-sector roles. I’ve learned so much from each one of them, but I think the thing for me that is sort of my grounding point is that relationships are what make a difference in the success of a leader—or anyone. I mean, relationships from across the board. Every place I’ve worked, I’ve had a broad set of relationships across all staff roles in the organization. I've learned so much from staff. You try to maintain those relationships as you go through your life and career.

"That’s something I really value and try to work on every day—making sure people are valued and thanked for all that they do."

Is there an individual’s story from your time at United Way that continues to resonate with you?

There’s been so many people I’ve had the pleasure and honor of meeting who have shared their stories with me. I’m really impacted the most when it’s multiple generations that have been impacted. When you look at the cycle of poverty, it’s not just the parents, it’s the children, the grandparents. I’m always amazed and honored to hear the stories of people who, through their hard work and efforts, break the cycle for themselves. The young woman studying at the kitchen table and her three-year-old is reading because her mom is reading. It changes the dynamic of the family when you see your parents putting education first. Those are the stories I think of most because that child's future will be so different and holds such promise.

What do you love most about Des Moines?

My family is here. My kids and husband are here.

The thing that I think we take for granted that I love about Des Moines: It’s so easy to get folks to come to the table, to roll up their sleeves to work on issues.

"We can hold a summit on any of our issues, and people show up and want to learn more. They want to understand it; it’s nonjudgmental, and it’s forgetting their own agenda to find solutions. That doesn’t happen everywhere."

Where would somebody find you on the weekends?

You might be able to find me behind my sewing machine. I make quilts.

I tell my husband that, when I die, I don’t want some sad funeral; I want everybody who has gotten a quilt from me to bring their quilt and then it can be a quilt show. It’s great to see my daughter, who is married—she has her baby quilt, high school graduation quilt, college graduation quilt, a wedding quilt. Her story can be told through her quilts.