September 1, 2020
MEET BRIAN HASSETT, CEO of United Way of Greater Nashville
UWRA: Take us through your 40-year journey with United Way, including some of the many highlights.
Hassett: I’ve been fortunate to work for 10 different United Ways over the course of my career; is that a record of some sort? I think it may be. I started as an intern with United Way of Greater Rochester (NY) when I was only 22 years old and then joined the United Way of America Intern program. In those early years, I moved around so much --everything fit in my car. It was a great way to gain experience and build my network of friends and mentors. I went to Cleveland (OH) after my UWA internship ended. I thought it would be a great place to learn fundraising, and I was right. The team there was phenomenal. I was fortunate to work with people like Bill Kerrigan, Joe Calabrese, Craig Chancellor, Harve Mogul, Ralph Dickerson, Karen Hummell, Irv Lauber, Viney Chandler and Ed Littig. My next stops included Richmond (VA) with Larry Walton, who I worked for as an intern in Erie, PA. While there, I became friends with Brian Gallagher and Mike Durkin, who had similar jobs in the network. My first CEO role was in Worcester (MA) and then on to Valley of the Sun United Way in Phoenix (AZ). Our campaign grew from $24-48 million over the course of my seven-year career in Phoenix. It was an incredible experience. Larry got me into the Key Cities Group at that time, and I am still a member today. Many UWRA members will remember that Mark O’Connell orchestrated United Way as the organizer of the famous Olympic torch relay for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. That was a definite highlight. In 2001, I moved to Chicago to help unite the 50+ United Ways in the area. We also changed the name from Crusade of Mercy to United Way of Metro Chicago. That was the same year I worked with Merl Waschler to launch United eWay, a highlight of my career. After Chicago, I moved back to Phoenix, due to a family health issue, and ran the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization there.
My son ended up going east to play basketball in college, so I took a position as the CEO in Albany (NY), where I would be close enough to watch him play. That was a great experience leading a smaller United Way. Finally, in 2017, I moved to Nashville (TN). It is a wonderful community. 2020 looks much different than we’d planned for, but we’ve built strong momentum.
UWRA: 2020 has been a challenging year, especially for Nashville. How are you managing?
Hassett: A devastating tornado hit Nashville in early March, displacing a large part of our community -- including me. We were hit with COVID-19 shortly afterward. I have been through crises before, but this year took it to a new level. United Way of Greater Nashville raised $1 million right after the tornado hit and $5 million for COVID-19 relief. Thousands of those impacted by recent events have never accessed social services before. We were able to push money into the community very quickly, helping to keep people in their homes, providing childcare, and funding places where people turn for help. The state selected us to distribute $40 million in CARES Act funding based on our COVID-19 response, and the city is allocating another $10 million for COVID-19 support. The 2-1-1 data and Charity Tracker are real differentiators for us; we know exactly what people need. We will be able to move $50 million into our community before the end of the year. Equally important, United Way of Greater Nashville is taking a lead in community discussions about equity and inclusion. I see a real chance for change right now.
UWRA: You are an ardent supporter of UWRA, personally as a Leadership member and through the contributions made by the United Ways you’ve served. Why is that a priority for you?
Hassett: UWRA provides valuable services in the form of mentors, consultants, and interim leadership. I also see it as a resource for younger people to learn from those who built the United Way we have today. Personally, I find UWRA to be a great way to maintain fellowship with friends and former colleagues. Very few people know how hard these jobs can be, but UWRA members get it.
UWRA: You have been fortunate to work with and for several United Way icons. What have you learned from them?
Hassett: Joe Calabrese is a great golfer; when he bought new clubs, he’d have them shipped to the office, so his wife didn’t know. I have used that idea a number of times over the years. Seriously though, I was very lucky to have people looking after me early in my career. My association with them helped me learn how to become a CEO. I try to do the same now for others, especially those who come to United Way from other roles. After all these years, I believe the network of individuals leading United Ways at all levels is what makes us great.
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