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Charlotte United Way aims high

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By Laura Williams-Tracy

On her boss’ first day 12 years ago, Diane Wright, who at the time was still a junior employee at United Way of Central Carolinas, invited Gloria Pace King to lunch.

“That’s leadership; she’s no shrinking violet,” says King, president of North Carolina’s largest United Way. “Diane understands relationships and how to make them work.”

After 15 years at United Way, where she has worked since shortly after college, Wright is using that relationship expertise to lead the agency’s annual campaign.

Last year campaign raised $300,000 more than its goal, and Wright says the organization will attempt to hit $44 million by mid-November.

Leading the campaign means developing rapport with the titans of business who provide access to multitudes of other business leaders with pockets deep enough to fill the community’s many human service needs.

Along the way, Wright says, she learns from those successful corporate leaders how to make improvements in her own organization, which has 85 full-time employees and supports 97 local health and human service agencies.

“I have had more education in this job than I could at any university in the world,” says Wright.

United Way’s last rebranding effort, for example, benefited from the creative ideas of some of marketing executives from Bank of America, one of the world’s largest banks.

That mix of business and helping others was what drew Wright to the United Way in 1991.

A native of Troy, N.C., Wright grew up on a farm with her father, a small-engine repairman, and her mother, who worked for decades in administrative roles at Rutherford Hospital.

Diane Wright

Job: Senior vice president for resource development, United Way of Central Carolinas, Charlotte

Hometown: Tryon, N.C.

Education: B.A., human services and marketing, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 1989

Family: Husband, Jimmy Wright; dog, Sunny

Hobbies: Playing bluegrass fiddle, sailing, camping, mountain biking, snow skiing

Currently reading: “Extraordinary Powers,” by Joseph Finder

Last vacation: Cancun, Mexico

Wright attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, graduating in 1989 with a degree in human services and a minor in marketing.“I always knew I wanted to work in a field that helped people,” she says.  “I didn’t necessarily want to be in direct care, but I knew I wanted to have the opportunity to give back.”Wright worked briefly for two other nonprofits, learning about writing news releases and public relations before answering a newspaper advertisement to start United Way’s volunteer center.As a staff associate, Wright’s first job was to match volunteers with the organizations that needed their help.She began such efforts as the “Day of Caring,” in which companies dedicated a day to different nonprofits, helping with cleaning, landscaping or other necessary jobs.

As Wright’s responsibilities have grown, so have those programs, which evolved to a “Week of Caring” and eventually a “Season of Caring.”

And after serving as marketing director and stepping back in to head the expanding volunteer center, she was named vice president of marketing in 1998.

In 2003, she took on her current role as senior vice president of resource development, overseeing the organization’s annual campaign, which last year raised $41 million.

This summer, Wright assumed the added responsibility of overseeing the regional United Way’s outlying operations in Cabarrus, Union and Anson counties as well as the Lake Norman-Mooresville area.

Though it requires 11-hour days, Wright says, the fall campaign is her favorite part of the job.

“The last couple of weeks in the campaign are the hardest when you are 5 percent or 10 percent from your goal and you wonder where you are going to get the rest,” she says. “I love it when the volunteers roll up their sleeves and work hard to do what’s right.”

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