Leading the WayBy: Lianne Bidal Thompson
Kim Gennaula Unites the Aloha
Photography By Nathalie Walker
“I FEEL LIKE WE’RE GROWING THE SPIRIT OF GIVING IN THE COMMUNITY.” That’s exactly the spirit that Kim Gennaula, president and chief professional officer (CPO) for Aloha United Way, wants to foster in Hawai’i.
“I want to re-establish AUW as the No. 1 charity of choice in this community,” she explains. “Not because I think AUW is more important … I think they’re all equally important. I think that United Way’s greatest value is that we are the only agency doing grassroots fundraising for the greatest needs of the entire community.”
Gennaula first became a familiar face in Hawai’i households as a respected newswoman and anchor-with several of those anchor years spent sitting next to her husband, Guy Hagi. However, it was her role as mother that convinced her to seek a new path.
“I never in a million years thought I’d be in the fundraising or even the non-profit world,” she says, who says the first step came after Kapi’olani Medical Center-where both of her kids were born-asked her to come onboard. She spent three years as Philanthropy Director there, raising nearly $13 million for the foundation in that time.
“It was a very rewarding experience. It gave me a really good grasp of the overall picture of how you work with donors,” Gennaula adds.
“So when the Aloha United Way position became available, I was a little reluctant to take it at first because I knew it was a much, much bigger job. I also saw this as the first time in my life that I can combine my media skills, my communication skills, what I’d learned in fundraising, and a lot of years from times past of doing office administration,” she says, concluding that it might be “the only opportunity I have in my life to help the entire community.”
Last year, AUW funded over 300 different local non-profits, touching more than 800,000 lives on O’ahu, alone.
“I guarantee somebody in your family is using a United Way agency,” she points out. “Whether it’s the YMCA, a KCA preschool, Alzheimer’s Foundation, I could go on and on.”
No stranger to the organization, Gennaula’s first experience with AUW was as Communications Director for Liberty House, where she ran the AUW campaign for 36 stores and had 100 percent participation. She will use the corporate climate of giving back during those years as a blueprint for what she’d like to see in the future.
“It was back in the day when the CEO was very active in saying ‘This is important to our community,’ and we all just did it,” she says. “There are still companies like that now, but our goal is to bring it back to that level for all businesses.”
For many people, they see AUW as an organization that helps those overcome by difficult circumstances, but Gennaula points out that really, a bad turn could happen to anyone. AUW provides services that many people might not know about, such as the 211 line. “We have a staff of highly trained phone operators who handle almost 50,000 calls a year through that line,” Gennaula says.
Calls cover everything from people seeking food assistance, finding services for an elderly relative, or even locating places to get a flu shot. The government also uses 211 as a non-emergency line when the Civil Defense sirens sound-then, operators provide information such as shelter locations.
For those who want to help, there’s the annual giving campaign, in which businesses recruit employees to give a portion of their paycheck to the Aloha United Way via a payroll deduction. However, AUW also provides a wealth of other volunteer opportunities.
“We have an extensive volunteer network. Through our program, Volunteer Hawaii, we have thousands of people a year who get connected to charities.”
Other programs, such as the Society of Young Leaders (made up of next-gen leaders between the ages of 21 and 45) and the Loaned Executives, help provide innovative ways for people to give back to the community and provide non-profits with much-needed manpower.
In lean times, charities that are supported by AUW are very aware of how important the organization is.
“AUW has been providing support in a time when government funding has been diminishing,” says Connie Mitchell, director of the Institute for Human Services. “It’s helped to sustain three different IHS programs that impact access to health services and support for homeless persons and families that we serve. I’m so grateful for and don’t know where we would be without their support.”
“We at Hospice Hawai’i are so thankful to AUW,” says Ken Zeri, president and CPO for Hospice Hawai’i. He explained that, thanks to continued funds from AUW, the non-profit was able to provide expanded therapy services for their patients.
“I think United Way’s value in the community and why I’d like it to be top-of-mind for everybody is that we are like Philanthropy 101 for people,” Gennaula explains. “We teach them to take that first step-and maybe it’s only $20 a paycheck-toward really doing something good in their community. I’d like to get to a point where every body thinks that way. I know that’s ambitious…”
AUW does extensive research, through its various Impact Councils, on the need in the community. They do this by working with nonprofits that service the five impact areas (such as homelessness and early childhood education), coordinating with non-profits to see how they can work together-instead of duplicating efforts.
“For instance,” Gennaula explains, “we’ll give you $200,000 for this screening program, if you guys agree to work together, we can service 3,000 kids instead of 1,000 kids. We try to be facilitators and also funders.”
And, AUW also ensures there are results for the support given to various charities. “We vet the charities twice a year,” Gennaula points out. “When we fund a charity, they have to tell us what they’re going to do. They have to have measureable results. Six months later, they have to show progress, and by the end of the year, they have to show that they accomplished what they said they were going to accomplish.”
One has to wonder if Gennaula’s first goal, when she left her journalism career, is getting shoved aside.
“It’s the most busy that I’ve ever been, but I’m extremely happy,” she says. “I am determined to get to a point of good work/ life balance, but I’m smart enough to know that’s not going to happen in the first six months on the job. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a job where I eat, breathe, sleep, dream, think AUW, all day long. So I’ve been working on myself to do my best to still be there to pick up my kids from school and pretend like I haven’t worked before I saw them, to be the same mommy.”
She discusses how, like herself, other women struggle with that need to be “Superwoman” at home and in the office.
“I stay really committed to the most important things in my world: God and my family and I try really hard to keep those priorities in order, but it’s a daily challenge.”
In the end, it’s the fulfillment of this new position that makes it all worthwhile.
“Working at AUW has completely opened my eyes to need everywhere,” Gennaula explains. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of going to just about any charity and knowing we helped this little boy, or this family, but mostly, it’s just the sense that I finally recognize that there is a way we can all help.