When Heather Clark was transferred to Lake Forest for her job a few years ago, she knew very little about the greater Chicago region. What she did know was that she was interested in supporting local programs that serve children—the most important social issue to her.
“Children are our future, and all children deserve the maximum opportunities to thrive,” explained Heather. “We can make the most impact on society today and in the future by ensuring that children get a solid education, preventative health care as well as care when they are ill, a house to call home, protection from violence of any kind, and an adult who is financially able to care for them.”
In the spring of 2014, Heather attended a United Way Women’s Leadership Council event at Bella Via in Highland Park. The speaker that evening told a touching story about his experience mentoring a young boy, and how that same boy showed up on his doorstep to be there for him years later on the day of his wife’s funeral. That’s just one example of how volunteers and programs that help children become good citizens help build caring adults who give back to society.
The story Heather heard at the Women’s Leadership Council function that night resonated with her and matched her vision of how helping children at a young age has long-term, positive impact. “I decided that the type of programs United Way supports were a very good fit for what I value. I joined the Women’s Leadership Council and soon became a member of the advisory committee at the North-Northwest Regional office,” Heather explained. “It felt good to be helping change the direction of many lives.”
In thinking about how she chooses organizations to become involved with, Heather said, “United Way has a long history of helping individuals and families in communities all across the country. They are a reputable organization. I never doubt that my investment will go where I want and that it will be put to the best use in the community. United Way does the research on community needs, they choose partner agencies carefully, and then they monitor the work that’s being done. For a working mom like me, that brings peace of mind, and it’s one less thing I personally need to do.”
Heather also commented that she likes the flexibility that her gifts to United Way offer. “United Way is my one philanthropic partner, but in reality, I’m supporting all of the United Way partner agencies. They have a well thought-out process. I feel good knowing that children in our region are getting a wide range of needs met through my one gift to United Way.”
Heather shared that she has a concern about the future of philanthropy, though. She is concerned that because there are so many groups asking for donations, people may become numb to the needs that exist and reduce their giving. “I get asked to give to some cause almost every day and everywhere I go—at the grocery store, the pet shop, at my son’s school, on-line, direct mail at home and phone solicitations. Sometimes I feel like I give all the time. That starts making me feel that I’ve done enough, and some days I don’t want to give again or give more. When many groups ask for charitable donations, I fear that it will diminish the real impact that is possible. If I give a little bit here and a little bit there, I’m afraid that the impact will get watered down,” said Heather. “That’s why through the Step-up Program, I’ll give more each year to United Way because I know they have a strategic plan for life-changing impact and lasting improvements in Chicagoland. They use metrics to measure improvements just like I do at work which makes good business sense to me.”
When asked why she thinks the greater Chicago region needs United Way, Heather replied that it has to do with politics. “Chicagoland needs United Way because in addition to creating strategies for impact and raising money to fund human service agencies, they have an advocacy arm. The staff conducts research to identify the critical needs, and then they make sure legislators and other policy makers are informed of those needs and the programs that will alleviate them. Donors like me can go with Advocacy Committee members to make the case in Springfield to our elected officials that we must fund effective social services for the good of all citizens and for the good of companies that do business here as well.”
Heather Clark is VP of Global Customer Experience for Fleetmatics in Schaumburg. Welcome to the Tocqueville Society Step-up Program, Heather, and thank you for sharing your insightful views.
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