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York Region benefitting from merger of York, Toronto United Way branches: CEO Daniele Zanotti
July 9, 2016
By Lisa Queen

An historic $100-million fundraising achievement.

As the merged United Way Toronto and York Region celebrates its first anniversary this month, there is no more tangible way to measure the alliance’s success than recognizing the ground breaking financial milestone that’s resulted in a boost in investment in York Region, new CEO Daniele Zanotti said.

The year before the merger, which came into effect July 1, 2015, donors contributed $89 million to Toronto’s United Way and $8 million to York’s organization, for a combined total of $97 million.

“When we merged, we set an aggressive goal of $100 million, which was a 3 per-cent increase. We delivered and beat it, actually. We came in a little bit higher than that,” said Zanotti, adding the merger resulted in more donors, more workplace fundraising campaigns and more volunteers.

“For all intents and purposes, that demonstrates very visibly that the synergy of the two coming together raised more dollars together for agencies right across the region ... (We had a) 3 per cent growth in fundraising that will directly go to agencies across York Region. We have not had that for many, many years in York.”

The additional funding has allowed York to piggyback on successful ventures in Toronto, something that never would have happened without the merger, Zanotti said.

When they merged, United Way Toronto had a number of existing strategies, a building strong neighbourhoods strategy and a youth success strategy, he said.

“The merger allowed us to take inventory and stock of the demographics in York Region and then look at how might these play out on these issues in York.”

For example, the United Way will roll out a career navigator program for young people in York this fall.

Launched in Toronto last year, the project connects young people facing barriers, such as poverty and lack of education, to meaningful careers in fields such as IT, retail, construction and health care through partnerships with employers, educational institutions and labour organizations.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Immigrant and Community Services in York received funding from the United Way for a program called LIFT, which prepares newcomers between the ages of 16 and 24 with in-demand job skills and employment information so they can make wise education and career choices.

In addition, the region, an entry point for many newcomers, was able to take advantage of a $750,000 investment for Syrian refugees settling in York and Toronto.

“A number of agencies across Toronto and York benefitted from that and are now directly using those dollars, as we speak, on the ground helping families integrate,” Zanotti said.

In April, the United Way released a report on the growing problem of precarious or insecure employment in York,.

The research, which built on a six-year study and two previous surveys conducted across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, revealed more than 40 per cent of York residents surveyed struggle with some degree of unstable job prospects such as irregular hours, short-term contracts and few or no benefits.

In January, the United Way conducted York’s first point-in-time count of the homeless, with information gathered from the project now being used to improve services.

The investments in York show the merger of the two United Way organizations has benefitted the region, Zanotti said.

“We began this process with a real promise to make things better for the community first and for our partners second, partners being donors, corporate partners, agencies and labour. So, a year in, I say very clearly, we’ve got measurable successes on delivering on that promise,” he said.

Even his appointment as the merged United Way’s new CEO is an indication of York Region’s substantial presence in the amalgamated organization, said Zanotti, who served as CEO of United Way York Region between 2007 and 2015.

“In the signal of me stepping into the president and CEO role, it was a clear indication of our commitment to not only York Region, where I led before, but, of course, Toronto, where I grew up and have great history as well,” he said.

The merger built on an existing alliance between the organizations, Zanotti said.

“This is not a merger of two completely separate non-profits or two completely separate for-profits. We have collaborated day in and day out since the day United Way York Region started. We partnered at all kinds of levels,” he said.

“The merger provided us a synergy and convergence that allowed more focus on raising dollars, more investing in the community and community impact.”

The United Way is continuing to build on its strong neighbourhood strategy, youth success strategy and community work, Zanotti said.

“It is the adaptation of our work in different neighbourhoods. What poverty looks like in Milliken Mills or in Keswick is different than what it manifests itself into in Kensington Market or on Kipling Avenue,” he said.

“While we have a great understanding of the research and the agencies on the ground, we are working with our local partners on how might we address that.”

As the merged United Way looks forward to its second year, it will use its successes as a blueprint to focus on priorities such as poverty, youth unemployment and building healthy communities in coming years, Zanotti said.

“My hope is to bring more people to the table, identify those community solutions that require deep collaboration and then get very specific things done,” he said.

“Local, nuanced, but aligned to a shared goal. That need not be the same in Georgina as it is in Toronto.

“The how we do that, the means of doing that, will definitely be the same.”

Joining forces has resulted in a stronger United Way, which is felt in the community, Zanotti said.

“At the core of this entire merger, from day one, we said it must be better for the community and it must be better for our partners - donors, volunteers, agencies. A year later, we have delivered on the promise for the community,” he said.

“We have more dollars raised, more invested, more opportunities for our agencies. We’ve delivered from a research perspective and in action like the count me in point-in-time count. It’s humbling that the journey has included more volunteers, accounts and partners who have felt the synergy of this and helped us deliver on this promise.

“I think the next year will not only delve into that further, but also allow more discussions on, ‘So, where can I go see this in York and what does it look like in York?’ That may be the physical manifestation as well.”