The board of United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County recently named longtime United Way executive Christopher Martin as the organization’s next president and CEO.
Currently the senior vice president and chief development officer for the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Martin was selected following a three-month search that began after current President and CEO Lyndon Herridge announced in March that he would retire in March 2019. Herridge joined United Way in 1992 as vice president and chief financial officer, progressing to president and CEO.
Martin will begin a six-month transition into the job starting Oct. 1.
“Chris immediately stood out as someone who has deep experience as an executive leader ... in organizational transformation,” stated Board Chairman Michael Ciskowski in the announcement made July 11.
Martin takes over during a time of major change in giving patterns nationwide. Last year, the United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County set a smaller-than-usual fundraising goal due in part to a regulatory change for contributions from federal employees as well as changes in the way the city’s second largest employer, USAA, structured its employee giving programs.
A Chicago native, Martin began his career as a United Way Worldwide Advanced Leadership Program management trainee with United Way of America, then filled assignments with United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and the Heart of Illinois United Way in Peoria, Illinois.
Prior to his position in Cincinnati as campaign manager in 1995, he was vice president of resource development for the United Way of Palm Beach County in Florida.
He spoke with the Rivard Report on Thursday following a brief visit to San Antonio ahead of his move to the area in the coming months. (Some of his responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
Rivard Report: Your entire career since graduating from Lake Forest College in Illinois has been with the United Way. What drew you to this organization?
Christopher Martin: When I went to college, my intention was to become a doctor. I took the MCAT [Medical College Admission Test], which went fine, but just after, I made the decision not to pursue that. It was actually a college career planning counselor who recommended the management training program.
I came to appreciate the aspect of the job of knowing you are caring for people in the community in which you live and the opportunity to not only have a positive impact on individuals’ lives, but on the entire community and the direction that so many in the community take.
The United Way in so many communities is viewed as a leader, and that was a big part of it for me, as well as the interaction day to day with the people – the staff, volunteers, corporate partners, and donors. I knew this job would provide me with the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on whatever community I live in. Ultimately, that’s what we’re striving to do, and that’s meaningful to me.
RR: What do you see as the biggest challenges for the United Way in San Antonio, and for the community that you’ll face in your new role?
CM: I think there are a lot of positives and strong points in the organization to build upon. I plan to spend a lot of time meeting with people because I really want to understand how people view United Way as an asset in the community and understand what opportunities we have to build a better San Antonio. Because that’s what I’d like to accomplish.
The fundraising environment is becoming more and more challenging, not just in San Antonio, but everywhere, and we’ve had to find ways in Cincinnati to address this. Cincinnati is the fifth largest United Way among annual campaigns in country and we have faced many challenges here, and I know that will be true in San Antonio. That’s something we’re going to have to address as an organization and a region if we’re going to do the best work we possibly can.
As in Cincinnati, the work we do to improve early childhood education will be important for our future. We have to find a way to address some of those root cause issues very early in a child’s life to give them the best possible start.
We’re also similar in our efforts with workforce development and make sure the workforce has the skills it needs to provide a workforce for our corporate partners, and workers can attain the skills they need. San Antonio is a leader in doing some of that work. Thinking about this issue from a family-centered perspective is important.
RR: How do you think the United Way can remain relevant as a fundraising and giving model for future generations?
CM: The United Way is definitely relevant, but how we adapt to the changing environment is going to be crucial for our future. At the United Way in Cincinnati, I have been heavily involved in the work of partnering with Salesforce.org, the fundraising arm of Salesforce. We launched Philanthropy Cloud July 2 as a social media platform that allows donors to engage with charities for both giving and volunteering.
It is one way for us to respond to the challenges of giving in the digital world. We are going to have to think about what that means for every United Way across the country. The workplace giving campaign is a strength and asset, and we have to find a way to engage people where they’re at. There is no doubt that it will not be the silver bullet in every community – it might be right for San Antonio, and it might not. All of that needs to be evaluated.