By Kaitlin Candelaria
Most people’s hobbies are things like enjoying a good book or cooking a great meal. But Nancy Goedecke isn’t most people.
Goedecke, a locally renowned business woman and philanthropist, has made a hobby out of helping others. Like anyone, the Mayer Electric CEO loves spending time with her family as well as traveling, but within minutes of meeting her, it’s easy to see that her true passion is helping others.
“I love people,” Goedecke said. “I love feeling like I’m making a difference in people’s lives.”
The list of nonprofits Goedecke has worked with over the years is exhaustive, and now she may have embraced her biggest challenge yet.
In January, The United Way of Central Alabama announced Goedecke as the chairwoman for the organization’s annual fundraising campaign.
Goedecke will be the first female chair in the history of the 93-year campaign.
“I’m honored and humbled,” she said. “On one hand, I don’t like being singled out for being a woman because I want people to respect the job I do regardless of being a female or not. I hope I have a reputation for working hard and smart and surrounding myself with good people and that’s helped with my success. But I think we do hear about the glass ceiling and I do want to help break that.
“Not only do I want to do well, I want to do exceptionally well because I think there’s absolutely no reason a female, CEO or not, couldn’t do what I’m doing.”
Female or not, Goedecke has her work cut out for her. The campaign, which raised more than $38 million dollars last year, is a massive undertaking.
“I’m standing on the shoulders of so many giants,” she said. “When you look at past chairs of the campaign, they’re really the movers and shakers of Birmingham and they’ve built an incredible base. I have every intention of continuing what they’ve done to be successful.”
“My MO is that I try to give everything I commit to over 100 percent. I give it my all. If I’m going to put my name on something, I can’t sleep at night without knowing that I’m doing everything I can do to take it to the next level.”
Goedecke’s civil servant attitude was ingrained early on. Her parents, Charles and Patsy Collat, always emphasized the importance of giving back to the community.
“I watched them at first give time and then as they got older, they gave both time and money,” Goedecke said. Her mother passed away in January, but she said her father is still tirelessly contributing to the community, and she hopes to continue to follow in his footsteps.
“It’s just always been a part of my life,” she said. “I’ve really never not been involved.”
Goedecke has been involved with the United Way of Central Alabama for many years – as were her parents – but she said it wasn’t until she accepted the position as the campaign chairwoman that she realized the full extent that the organization is able to help the community.
The agency serves more than 800,000 people in five counties and provides funding for more than 80 agencies in the area. These agencies address a wide variety of needs in the community, covering everything from special needs to financial literacy.
“I knew the direct services were important, but now I see the impact,” she said. “One program that’s really stuck with me is the tax prep services The United Way offers. Last year, they offered free tax prep for individuals making under $53,000 and were able to help 3,400 individuals in the area and in turn, brought $2.5 million back into the local economy. These people aren’t using their returns to visit the Bahamas – they’re buying groceries and paying bills. This upcoming year, I’d love to see us help 10,000.”
Goedecke points out that another unique feature of United Way is its allocation teams. Consisting of more than 600 volunteers, these teams go out in groups of 25 to 30 people and evaluate agencies receiving money from The United Way.
Goedecke herself has participated in these teams and says it makes a big difference when it comes to asking for money because she knows the money is being used correctly.
“I want to reach companies and individuals who haven’t necessarily given before and I want to take away the excuse that they’ve never been asked,” she said. “I’m asking now. If everyone just gave $50 – which is a lot of money for a lot of people – we could make a huge difference. And for some people that’s all they can give, but for others, I need them to step up to the plate.”
This year’s campaign theme is “Why I Give” and Goedecke’s answer is that she’s seen the direct difference UWCA makes in people’s lives.
“Every agency has a story and I can’t imagine hearing the difference that the agencies make and not giving something,” she said. “When you hear someone say things like, ‘I have means and I’d never thought I’d need The United Way, but thank goodness it was there,’ you realize how important it is. The only way we’re going to be able to continue the work that they’re doing is by continuing to give.”
For more information on this year’s United Way fundraising campaign, which begins Sept. 10, visit www.uwca.org. ϖ