One on One: Jason Wood brings United Way experience

one_on_one_jason_woodWhen JD Dallager announced his plans to retire as Pikes Peak United Way’s CEO earlier this year, Jason Wood saw an opportunity — and went for it.

Wood, who was living in Kansas City, has headed two other United Way organizations and is no stranger to nonprofits. He has an undergraduate degree in nonprofit management and has worked with United Way for the past eight years.

Although he’s been in Colorado Springs for only a few weeks, Wood plans to hit the ground running in his first year on the job, increasing the annual campaign and hoping to create a community impact agenda, one “we can all hold ourselves to, one that will bring positive change.”

Wood says the community has been open and inviting in his early days on the job. But he also notes that Colorado Springs has significant challenges.

What made you choose to move to Colorado Springs?

I was looking for an opportunity to lead a United Way in a great community. When offered the position of president and CEO of Pikes Peak United Way, I was pleased to learn of the organization’s solid 90-year history, its strong leadership role in the community and its belief in the implementation of community-wide strategies. It felt like a perfect fit. On a personal note, my wife and I, along with our two sons, are looking forward to the multitude of recreational activities. Needless to say, Colorado Springs is a great city and we’re excited to be a part of the community.

What are the particular challenges of the job?

As with any position, there are challenges and opportunities. Although Pikes Peak United Way has achieved at or over $5 million for the past seven years of the economic recession, need within our community has continued to grow. At present, the most pressing challenge is to increase overall campaign dollars to not only meet but to exceed those needs. In addition to financial growth, it is critical that we at Pikes Peak United Way continue to identify key community issues that affect residential quality of life and mobilize our efforts in a collaborative manner to address those challenges.

What is your nonprofit experience?

Having received a bachelor’s degree in nonprofit management, with an emphasis on fundraising, I’ve worked for the past eight years with United Way organizations in the Kansas City area, first with Bi-County United Way of Eastern Jackson and Cass, and later with the United Way of Greater Kansas City.

As one of only 24 global resident fellows selected from more than 1,800 United Ways around the world, I had the honor of participating in a rigorous year-long leadership development program designed to attract and develop talent from within United Way organizations. The group included members from Russia, Hungary, Romania, South Korea, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Philippines, Vietnam and the United States.

How do you prioritize early childhood education programs with funding for safety net programs?

The Pikes Peak United Way board made the decision over a year ago to prioritize quality early learning. There is substantive research that quality early learning increases potential success in school, graduation rates, workforce readiness, job productivity and community engagement. By increasing our investment in prevention strategies, we have increased opportunities to make a substantial change here in Colorado Springs. Just as important, Pikes Peak United Way must continue to provide a strong safety net in order to ensure that we have the vital services necessary for those in immediate need. Pikes Peak United Way is committed to creating the best quality of life for all of our citizens. So while we’re helping those who need help now, we’re also working to create positive and long-lasting change.

What are your first impressions of Colorado Springs?

I have found the community to be extremely welcoming to both myself and my family. Everyone in the community seems to recognize the important role Pikes Peak United Way plays in solving community problems. That being said, after having studied the Quality of Life Indicators report, as well as the most recent census data, there are some real challenges around the ever-increasing number of individuals and families experiencing poverty.

On a positive note, there appear to be great partnerships in place that are dedicated to working together to improve the lives of those who reside in the Springs. It is my hope that we can work together to make a difference.

What are your main goals your first year in the new position?

First and foremost, I want to listen to the community. I look forward to working with my staff, our partner agencies, our corporate and civic partners and government to identify the most pressing needs and to mobilize our community to create measurable impact. I know it will not happen in a year. But by working together, I hope to see an increase in Pikes Peak United Way’s annual campaign as well as the creation of a community impact agenda we can all hold ourselves to, one that will bring about positive change.

Have you ever visited here before?

I had the opportunity to visit Colorado Springs when I was a Boy Scout. We went skiing in Monarch and later stayed at the Boy Scout lodge at the Air Force Academy. Those are some great memories.

What do you do for fun and relaxation?

I have two sons who keep me quite busy. I’ve had the opportunity to coach my oldest son in baseball and football. As a family, we enjoy spending time together and attending sporting events. We’ll definitely be taking advantage of a number of those here in Colorado.