Rob Reifsnyder Talks With Cincinnatus About The United Way's Bold Goals (And His Love of Skyline Chili)

Rob ReifsnyderWorking with community partners, United Way of Greater Cincinnati put in place its Bold Goals for Our Region, with an eye on making (and measuring) improvement in education, employment and public health.

The Cincinnatus Association has endorsed the goals and is committed to helping meet them. United Way President Robert C. Reifsnyder sat down for an Q&A with us in the Fall 2013  to discuss the goals. Parts of this Q&A were published in our November 2103 newsletter. Here is the full interview.

Q: Why Bold Goals – isn’t progress often in increments?

A:  There’s a lot of truth to the business mantra that what gets measured gets done.  We’ve spent many decades doing good work with individual programs, agencies and initiatives, without assessing progress on important challenges like kindergarten readiness.  I believe our community has worked hard over the past 10 years to go above individual programs and think about the big issues and problems our region faces, and then set Bold Goals to address them.  Progress is in increments, so it’s important that we consider this work to be continuous improvement over time.  We simply cannot give up.

Q: It’s the nature of goal setting that priorities are set. Can you give us some insight into how the United Way team settled on these priorities?

A: The United Way team didn’t settle on these priorities.  United Way convened four dozen community partner organizations, including Agenda 360, Vision 2015 and Strive, to consider the question “Can we as a region develop a small set of important and aspirational goals in education, income and health that we can all work to achieve by 2020?”

The partner organizations concluded that this was critical to our future quality of life and established three task forces in education, income and health to develop the goals.  The challenge and opportunity was to develop goals that, if achieved, would have the most impact on improving our community and its quality of life.

Q:  Is the Bold Goals strategy unique to Greater Cincinnati or part of a national movement for United Way?

A:  United Ways worldwide are focused on education, income and health.  Our community was among the first to establish specific goals in these building blocks for a quality life; we still haven’t identified many communities that have established such a broad and ambitious set of goals.

Q: Most people probably think of United Way in terms of the annual appeal and making a donation. That’s important, but what counsel would you give about others ways to engage?

A:  While the annual appeal is still most people’s first thought about United Way, our work is really about bold community goals and solutions.  To achieve the goals, we ask everyone not only to give but also to advocate for what they believe in and want to improve, and to volunteer in ways that will help move the goals forward.  There are many ways to do this through United Way:  our Volunteer Connection, for example, is ready to engage individuals, families and organizations that want to support the Bold Goals.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to this career?

A:  My father was in United Way, and I was proud of the work he did.  That said, growing up in the rebellious 60’s, for a long time I didn’t even want to consider going into the same work as my father.  But as I thought about my career and saw the importance of community work, I looked for opportunities and was accepted into United Way of America’s national internship program.  I told my fellow interns that I’d give this a shot for a year and see if I liked it.  Thirty-eight years later, I guess I know the answer!

Q:  You’ve directed in United Way in another Ohio River city – Louisville. What’s distinct about Cincinnati?

A: I think every community in the country has a strong volunteer ethic that’s built into Americans’ DNA.  Louisville is a great community and a great United Way town.  Having been on the Cincinnati United Way staff team before I went to Louisville and then coming back here in 2001, I find that the commitment and ownership by community leaders and volunteers of our civic organizations here is intense.  It’s the highest level I’ve seen in the communities I’ve been in.

Q:  A hypothetical: You’ve been out of town for a month and you return. Which must you have first: Skyline? Graeter’s? LaRosa’s? Something else?

A: No question about it!  My staff, friends and family would all know that the answer is:  Skyline.

Q: When friends visit from out of town, what do you tell them they must see?

A:  We like to take our friends a tour of the community so they can see the beauty of Cincinnati – the river, the hills, the skyline, the beautiful integration of old and new.  The top of the Carew Tower or a meal at the Metropolitan Club are great places to really see the beauty.  Coming north through the cut in the hill, you view one of the most beautiful skylines I’ve ever seen.  We also take them to a Reds or Bengals game, or one of the arts opportunities.  For my history buff friends, visits to the William Howard Taft home and Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace are opportunities to salute two of our hometown Presidents.

Q:  We see Rob Reifsnyder, distinguished community leader in a suit and tie, at events and the like. What about the weekend Rob? What do you enjoy most in the off hours?

A:  You’re right about the suit and tie, but I’m also often wearing one of our black Live United t-shirts at United Way events and volunteer projects.  The weekend Rob is a runner, loves golf, dinner with friends or neighbors, reading, plays and movies.  There’s also some weekend travel to see family and friends or visit other cities.

Q:  United Way, before investing in an agency, wants to be certain of impact. What word of advice would you have to agency leaders about how to have impact – how to make a difference?

A: I have to start with a question:  What improvement are we making in the life of that child, that youth, that adult or that senior over time?  It’s not easy to measure this impact.  It’s hard enough to measure the speed and quality of Ford Explorers coming off a production line.  It’s even harder when you’re talking about all of the influences on the life of a child.  United Way agency partners work hard, using an outcome logic model, to keep this question of front of them every day.