Exec who remade Charlotte's United Way to retire

08/15/2014 12:00 AM

08/15/2014 9:00 AM

One of Charlotte’s most high-profile charity leaders is retiring.

Jane McIntyre, a 68-year-old former school board member, is leaving Charlotte’s United Way after five years of working to rebuild the agency after an executive pay scandal in 2008.

It was a public relations nightmare that cost the agency dearly, including a lawsuit payout to former CEO Gloria Pace King, a $14 million plummet in donations and, perhaps worst of all, a loss of public trust.

McIntyre, who intends to stay on through the end of the fall United Way campaign, says she tried to set an early example by insisting the board pay her less than half the nearly $300,000 a year King was earning. She declined to accept raises, too.

“Bet you’ll never hear that from another executive director,” said McIntyre, who earned $142,000 annually. “No amount of money would have been worth the cost to United Way. It would hurt the campaign. It would hurt the agencies. It would hurt the people who need it (the money) the most.”

The damage to United Way was caused by news in 2008 that King had a combined salary and benefits package of $1.2 million for that year.

McIntyre’s makeover of the agency included cutting pay and reducing the staff from just over 100 people to 49. Pensions were frozen, benefits were reduced, and she even ordered the number of refrigerators in the building cut from eight to four to save electricity.

The staff was also encouraged to find new ways to generate money, resulting in agreements to lease out its parking lot and rent space in its uptown building. United Way’s annual operating budget went from $10.5 million to the current $5.6 million.

While her actions made her beloved in some circles, McIntyre admits having a “best of” collection of insults hurled at her by unforgiving Charlotteans.

Her favorites: “The Presumptuous Little Pickpocket,” “The Mendacious Munchkin” and the “dissembling little doyenne.”

“We had to look it up,” she says, laughing.

The search begins Friday for her replacement, who is expected to take over in late January or February. United Way board Vice Chairman Ed O’Keefe will direct the search committee and the firm Sockwell Partners will lead the process. Sockwell Partners is the same firm that recruited McIntyre five years ago.

McIntyre revealed her plans to retire to the agency’s staff Thursday. She says the decision is based on a belief that the United Way has regained its reputation and financial footing, as evidenced by a $3 million increase in campaign totals during her tenure.

Carson Dean of the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte says the steady increase in donations to the campaign proves McIntyre’s impact. Since she took over, United Way has distributed $83 million in five counties to help those in need, officials said.

“To say United Way was wounded is an understatement,” says Dean, noting that he’s both a donor to the campaign and a recipient of grant dollars for his agency.

“She took over at a point where the community was questioning whether United Way was even relevant, and today people truly see United Way as a critical organization for helping nonprofits.”

That shift is largely credited to McIntyre-backed initiatives that included commissioning outside experts to determine the region’s most pressing problems. Once those needs were identified, United Way began focusing money and staff on solving those problems.

The agency also recently announced that it was working with housing charities and Foundation for the Carolinas to create a coordinated system that will help homeless people find affordable housing more quickly.

Charles Bowman, North Carolina president for Bank of America, noted McIntyre’s success seems even more commendable when keeping in mind she led the agency during one of the worst economic downturns in decades. Charlotte endured thousands of layoffs and pay cuts among the city’s largest employers – the same employers that raise the most for United Way.

“She brought optimism and stability to the organization at a time when not-for-profits and for-profits had many challenges. She was a tough leader who stood there through the storm and helped the agency weather it,” Bowman said.

Not all of McIntyre’s initiatives were popular, at least at first. Charity leaders complained in private that United Way was tougher in pushing them to show proof that their programs were having an impact. Those who couldn’t produce got fewer grant dollars.

In another change, some big donors were taken aback by McIntyre’s decision to stop accepting donations for non-United Way charities during the annual campaign. Before her tenure, donors gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to colleges and even construction campaigns through the United Way campaign. If it didn’t help local charities, McIntyre told them she didn’t want the money.

“I tried to be nice turning down significant gifts,” McIntyre says. “I don’t think one (big) donor forgave me for that.”

She came to United Way after nine years as head of the YWCA on Park Road, which also rebounded from a financial struggle under her leadership. Before that, she was best known for being elected to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board in 1987 to fill a six-month unexpired term, but she eventually served more than eight years.

McIntyre said she pondered retirement for six months before making a final decision.

“I’m still having fun. I wasn’t ready to retire. I realized I owed it to the board and the organization to create a seamless transition,” McIntyre said.

Plus, she says, “my husband has been retired for seven years ... and he’d like to go to the beach for a full week.”

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