United Way connects to many of our generous donors through their workplaces. Each year, our corporate partners host giving campaigns for their employees to contribute to causes they care about.
Our donors often go above and beyond their initial pledge, deepening their commitment to community through volunteering and fundraising.
Risa Josias, regional director of Operations for BMO Wealth Management, has supported United Way through its workplace giving campaign for years. She’s always prioritized giving back — she’s volunteered to do free tax preparation and mentored youth through Big Brothers Big Sisters — but recently, she’s found new ways to invest in communities with the help of United Way.
“Volunteerism is an important touchpoint for me. It’s something that I always want to be involved in even though I have kids and less time now,” Risa said. “I want to show them volunteerism is part of our life.”
Risa joined United Way’s inaugural Board Leadership Institute in 2019 with dozens of other aspiring changemakers. The Board Leadership Institute prepares participants to serve on nonprofit boards and then matches them with a community organization. The program was a natural fit for Risa, who completed her Masters of Business Administration at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, United Way’s program partner.
Through the Institute, Risa and her peers explored the issues Chicago neighborhoods face, like the city’s housing crisis and the social effects of income inequity. They also learned best practices for fundraising and tools for managing finances.
“One of the best parts was making connections with all the other people in the cohort,” Risa said. “And the themes of the readings and discussions were so timely…we talked about institutional racism affecting Black and Brown communities. I understood [the issues] in certain ways but it was stark to me.”
It even challenged her thinking about her own industry — banking. “I didn’t realize how many people are unbanked. Of all things, I work at a bank. This is something I should know.”
After completing her training, Risa was matched with Erie Neighborhood House, a United Way partner that provides comprehensive support to immigrant and low-income families. Today, she proudly sits on their board!
A few months after her cohort ended, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Chicago. Hoping to help her neighborhoods in need, Risa and her best friend Allison started a Double Good fundraiser for the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. The Response Fund was launched by United Way of Metro Chicago and the Chicago Community Trust, in partnership with the City of Chicago, to bring critical resources to organizations on the front lines.
“It’s helping organizations across the city and pooling all these resources together,” Risa said. “It was really great to see United Way had an equity statement for the Response Fund. We thought a lot of money would be going to communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”
Selling gourmet popcorn, Risa’s fundraiser reached 36 supporters, including colleagues at BMO, and raised more than $1,200! It also brought cheer to family and friends who received surprise snacks in the mail.
“It feels good to do your own part and spread awareness,” Risa said. “We were deep in the pandemic and there were a lot of protests. There was just a lot of pain. And to come together with friends and family in and out of Chicago and my coworkers…it feels good.”