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Washtenaw United: United Way of Washtenaw County officially merges with United Way for Southeastern Michigan

United Way for Southeastern Michigan senior director of collective impact, Bridget Herrmann
United Way for Southeastern Michigan
United Way for Southeastern Michigan senior director of collective impact, Bridget Herrmann


Known previously as the as the Vice President for Impact & Advocacy at United Way of Washtenaw County, Bridget’s role has evolved into Senior Director of Collective Impact for United Way of Southeastern Michigan.

As the Senior Director of Collective Impact at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Bridget mobilizes networks, cohorts, and resources to drive collective impact and systemic change in alignment with organizational strategy and community needs. Working closely with Community Impact leadership, this role will leverage agency relations and data analytics to support successful integration of programs and initiatives across Southeastern Michigan in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw County.

Her employment with United Way has taken her from Florida to Washington and now, Michigan. Originally from Miami, FL, she now calls herself a Michigander after surviving nine winters.


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David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to this week's edition of Washtenaw United. Today, we are going to discuss change. Now, while you were enjoying your Sunday, a community change quietly took place. The organization we have been calling the United Way of Washtenaw County ceases to exist--just in name. The local organization has merged and become part of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. That larger organization serves not only Washtenaw now, but Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties. So, there will be changes. And I've been told the changes will expand the reach of the agency and our community. Our guest today was formerly the vice president for impact and advocacy with the United Way of Washtenaw County. Now, she serves as senior director of collective impact for the United Way of Southeastern Michigan. Bridget Hermann, it's always good to talk with you.

Bridget Herrmann: Thanks for having me back, David.

David Fair: Before diving into some of the specifics from a broad perspective, why do you believe it better for Washtenaw County to have a local nonprofit become part of a larger agency based in a different county? Is regionalism the strength?

Bridget Herrmann: It is. We know that the conditions that folks are being confronted with in Washtenaw County are not specific to our community. And being able to take a regional approach will allow us to leverage resources and scale programs to have a greater impact than would be possible with us operating independently in Washtenaw County.

David Fair: So, the plan to merge was announced right here on WEMU this summer, and it's been in the works since early this year. Perhaps you can give us a peek behind the curtain and describe how the reorganization has been conducted in our community to this point.

Bridget Herrmann: Yeah, David, this has been a really intentional process from the start. The question that our board and staff were confronting is what do we need to do to be here for another 100 years. And as you can imagine, once the board and staff went through that due diligence process within both organizations, there are a lot of moving parts that are now happening. The merger is official, but boy, oh boy! There's been a lot of mechanical work behind the scenes leading up to this. And that work will continue, really wanting to put at the center of the merger the people who are most impacted by poverty, racism or trauma and how we can really continue to shift the problems that are keeping these conditions in place and then focusing on user experience for folks who interact with the United Way. Those are the nonprofit organizations in our community and other community groups, donors, allies to the work. How can they continue to have the best and most positive experience possible when they're working with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan team?

David Fair: Now, there had been a well-respected staff in place at the United Way of Washtenaw County. Have all local staff been retained?

Bridget Herrmann: Nine of ten of us are now officially on board. So, the same familiar faces that folks are used to interacting with will be within the organization and many, many more friendly faces with whom folks can connect now that we're part of United Way for Southeastern Michigan. And team members will be present in both the Detroit office, the Ann Arbor office, and, of course, out in community.

David Fair: And that's important. The brick-and-mortar facility that you've occupied for so long, that's going to remain.

Bridget Herrmann: It is going to remain. You know, Pam will be continuing on through the end of the year as a consultant. And Dr. Hudson, the CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, she will be in the Washtenaw office once a week. The other important thing to know is that this is a wonderful community space that we had to shutter during the pandemic. We will be reopening the community room for folks to schedule events. Our community room is available to any nonprofit organization free of charge, and there is space available during regular business hours Monday through Friday.

David Fair: This is Washtenaw United on 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with Bridget Herrmann, who is now with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. Let's talk a little bit about money, Bridget. How much money was the United Way of Washtenaw County putting into the community on an annual basis before the merger?

Bridget Herrmann: Yeah, a little over $2 million. And that floated. That varied based on COVID dollars that were coming into the organization. And, unfortunately, that dollar amount, that annual investment of resources back into the community, has shrunk over time, which was part of the reason why we were looking to merge, because we knew that the landscape of philanthropy has continued to change. And we needed to think differently about how to ensure that those resources were flowing to local organizations and groups.

David Fair: So, will there be opportunity, because of the merger, to expand the number of Washtenaw County nonprofits and organizations that received grant funding because of the decision to become part of the regional organization?

Bridget Herrmann: The short answer is yes. So, new funding and great opportunities are currently being explored for Washtenaw County and for the region at large. And one that's coming up for the entire region that I want to make sure I share with folks today is our Racial Equity Fund. This is designed to empower local leaders who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color and folks served by those organizations who are most harmed by systemic oppression. And this fund is really designed to ensure that everybody has access to equitable resources and opportunities. Applications open on October 16th. And more information is available on United Way for Southeastern Michigan's website. I also want to share that there is a specific opportunity exclusive to Washtenaw County nonprofits that we are building out right now that will go live at the top of 2024. So, more information to come there.

David Fair: I do want to ask on behalf of those who regularly or even occasionally contribute to the United Way of Washtenaw County and on behalf of those who have been recipients of the funds of that organization. Is there any reason to be concerned that the money they contribute will be allocated outside of the county borders and not serve those it is intended to serve?

Bridget Herrmann: Hmm. Ooh, that's such a nuanced question, David. What I want to share with folks is that if you are a current donor who designates a gift to a local organization and group in Washtenaw County, there is no change to that policy. You give through United Way. You can write an any 501c3 that operates in the United States, and we hope that you will make your gift to United Way, as well as to another local organization and group in Washtenaw County. So, no change there. And, currently, there's no change with respect to that policy. Now, this is a question that's been asked by others. And so, I think we're diligent in what the best approach is on a move forward basis. But for the time being, there is no change to our giving practices and where those dollars are going to be applied.

David Fair: When the United Way in Detroit merged with Oakland County and with Macomb County and became the regional organization that it is, did those communities benefit because they expanded and looked at things more regionally?

Bridget Herrmann: You know, I try to think, yes. One of the efforts that comes to mind, David, that we still haven't solved is, as an example, transportation. And there have been many efforts to address transportation at the regional level by local and state governments over the past several years. When we think about the focus of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, it's really on the ecosystem of human service sector supports. And so, taking the regional approach is necessary, and it only helps us to better address the issues because we're not just limited by a particular geography, because we know that folks are moving between the four county regions. And given that consolidation of resources under the auspices of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, we're able to seed efforts and then scale efforts within the four-county footprint. So, it is a net positive to be able to work at scale and to be able to leverage the kinds of resources that only a larger United Way can draw down. As an example, the United Way for Southeastern Michigan played a tremendous role in being able to draw down ARPA resources and invest those back out into that three-county footprint. And being able to be that size United Way to be able to draw down federal dollars is a net positive for people and communities who are most impacted by poverty, racism and trauma.

David Fair: On a more personal note, you've described yourself as a stickler for congruency, particularly when it comes to making sure that practices align with stated goals and in the manner in which making sure that people taking care of the community are properly taken care of. So, as we enter a new era of United Way in our community, does all of that appear to be at the fore?

Bridget Herrmann: Yeah. Thanks for bringing me back to my values alignment piece. You know, something that's top of mind for me, David, are the relationships that the United Way of Washtenaw County has cultivated with our community caretakers. And when I say "community caretakers," I mean folks who are working at the front lines of local human service nonprofits and community groups. It's my job to impress upon the rest of the team who holds that value set that these are valued and crucial relationships, that they must be handled with care, and that we need to have the best experience possible during a time of change. The only people who like change are babies with diapers. And so, you know, to that end, you know, the team at Southeastern Michigan is really committed to welcoming in and making sure that the newest set of local human service organizations and groups with whom will be in relationships are having that positive experience. And so, just for folks who are on the line, who might be listening, who are members of that community, you're going to be getting a letter from Pam and Dr. Hudson about the ways that you can engage with us. And so, my team at United Way now is handling agency relations, so I'll be a friendly face at the table. I have two wonderful team members. We're going to be holding a series of coffee talks for local Washtenaw organizations, so that we can really help you understand the full array of services and supports beyond grant funding that United Way for Southeastern Michigan offers. And then, we'll be having some more in-depth conversations for folks who are currently receiving United Way funding to connect to those folks with other program leads within the United Way, really wanting to make sure that folks feel connected and that they know who to turn to now that this transition has taken place.

David Fair: Bridget, thank you so much for making time today and sharing the information. And there's a lot to look forward to as we move forward.

Bridget Herrmann: Good things are happening in Washtenaw County, David.

David Fair: That is Bridget Herrmann. She is senior director of collective impact for the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, filling us in on how the merger of the United Way of Washtenaw County with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan will expand service and opportunity in Washtenaw County. For more on the merger that officially took place yesterday, visit our Web page at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station at 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.


Made official on October 1, 2023, United Way of Washtenaw County and United Way for Southeastern Michigan are merging, strengthening our impact across Washtenaw, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties while building upon our expertise to create real, lasting change for families in our communities.

By coming together as one unified organization, we can combine our resources and expertise, while also tapping new sources of funding, creating new partnerships, and delivering more impact for people in need than ever before.

Visit our website for a special message from our President and CEO, Pam Smith & United Way for Southeastern Michigan's CEO Dr. Darienne Hudson and to learn more details about this historic merger.

We hope you share our excitement as we look to change more lives than ever in meaningful, lasting ways! Even more, we hope you’ll be a crucial partner in that work.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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