Workplace journeys: United Way

John Taylor, SVP and CTO at United Way, joined us at Flow to reveal how Workplace is helping him build a modern, relevant and accessible organisation for 13,000 staff and 30,000 volunteers in over 40 countries.


John Taylor wakes up every single day and asks himself a question: ‘How am I going to help move our mission along?’ That doesn’t mean there’s a simple answer.

United Way fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community. And as John explained to the audience at Flow, "We know we can’t do it alone, and we for sure can’t do it without being a connected organisation."

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Uniting 1,800 United Ways

Uniting 1,800 United Ways

But United Way isn’t any organisation. Not only is it more than 130 years old, with different leaders at different stages of their lives, it’s also a network of 13,000 people in 1,800 separate branches in over 40 countries.

What that means for John is "1,800 different United Ways. 1,800 different email systems. 1,800 different phone systems." Not to mention, "people at different stages of their life who do or do not want to video conference."

John – with support and leadership from Director of Technology Engagement Jim Yu – recognised the need to untangle United Way’s mismatched technology. Only by doing that could they empower the business to fulfil its potential – and its mission.

"Being a connected organisation means becoming a single network as we work together to solve some of these complex issues," he argues.

"That’s how we’ll attract people who want to work for us. It’s how we’ll persuade donors to give up more of their time and treasure. It’s how organisations will see United Way as a corporate social responsibility partner. It’s how agencies and NGOs will see us as co-collaborators. And it’s how we’ll enable the community to engage with us so that they see us as leaders in effecting change where it’s most important, which is on the ground."

Cutting through complexity

Cutting through complexity

John was confident that Workplace could cut through the complexity. But given how entrenched the business was, he thought getting other people onboard might be difficult. As it happened, he was in for a welcome surprise.

“To see our organisation come together around complex issues because they have a technology that empowers that easily – that’s transformational.”

- John Taylor, Chief Technology Officer, United Way

"When we sat down and talked about it and introduced Workplace, what I realised was that oftentimes we get stuck with how we do things. We forget about the fact that we all care about the same things. Because Workplace was a no-brainer and we didn’t have to explain it to anybody we got right to the work. And that is where everybody’s passions came together."

The key was simplicity. "Workplace was a great equaliser because everybody knew it, everybody loved it and most people used it. We were able to flatten the learning curve. We have not had one training yet. Not one training, which is great. For me, to see our organisation come together around complex issues because they have a technology that empowers that easily, that’s transformational."

That’s not to say that there weren’t a few sceptics to convert – but John let the data do the talking. "We had an executive that was sceptical about Workplace. He had constituents that he engaged with regularly using listserv. Now, if I talk to someone who’s a young leader and I ask them about a listserv they say, ‘What’s a listserv?’ But it’s what our network had got used to. And so this particular executive was concerned. He had 250 people that he engaged with regularly and deeply on really big issues that were important to us."

“Workplace was a great equaliser because everybody knew it and everybody loved it. We have not had one training yet.”

- John Taylor, Chief Technology Officer, United Way

"In the first week as we migrated from listservs to Workplace, his constituent group grew to over 800 people. To date, he has over 1,100 people that he’s engaged throughout our network. For me, that’s a success story and I want to see more of that happen. I want to make it easier for people to connect. Not be encumbered or weighed down by the technology, but using technology so they can get the work done."

What's next for Workplace?

What's next for Workplace?

John already has plans for how United Way gets more of the work done. "I want us to expand to engage our volunteers. I want to use technology to be digitally modern and relevant and accessible," he explains.

"I want everyone to have the chance to come together – I don’t want distance or budget constraints or differences in generations to get in the way of engaging the community. For us that starts with expanding to 30,000 volunteers and board members first."

Practically speaking, John is excited about the potential of multi-company groups to achieve that. "We currently use them but we want to expand it. We want to use them globally to connect people together around the issues, so we’re not just talking to ourselves but we’re exchanging ideas outside of our organisation to effect change in the communities that we all care about and love."

With huge thanks to John Taylor, CTO at United Way.

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