Nancy Sasaki

Six months in as United Way of San Diego County’s new president and CEO, Nancy Sasaki is seeing her vision for success take root: “We’re moving United Way’s work—in partnership with others— forward to support local children and their families through education and family stability,” she says. “We want children to thrive from cradle to career, and we want to know that families have the assistance needed to ensure their children’s success.”

There are other local nonprofits and organizations with similar goals, and Sasaki explains that one of United Way’s critical roles is “working, every day, in the community to bring together other stakeholders—school districts, nonprofits, the business community, the public sector, philanthropic and social service organizations—to work together, advancing opportunity for our county’s children.”

But how is that accomplished? One of her first orders of business: listening.

“The people we serve are many, and they are located all across the county. We knew we needed everyone represented, so we started outreach with a community listening survey, followed by focus groups, and interviews with thought leaders and key influencers. Our goal was to understand the community’s needs, and that begins with a conversation.”

While that data continues to be digested, the new CEO began the year hosting a series of salon receptions, introducing herself and her vision to small, diverse groups of community members.

“These informal settings, often in a home, allow us to test our messages, get feedback on our role and strategize together,” she explained to Giving Back Magazine. “I am learning so much about what our community wants as we focus on the important role United Way continues to play.”

Key to that role is playing well with others. Collaboration is required.

“I may be new to United Way of San Diego County, but I am not new to this region’s work dedicated to helping others. For nearly 30 years I have worked in collaboration with a lot of people and a lot of organizations to help the underserved in San Diego.”

Her all-encompassing approach is evident in her monthly blogs, which showcase the various organizations and events she attends to discover how United Way can work with other organizations to move the needle on behalf of San Diego’s children.

“We are all part of a mosaic in this community,” Sasaki says, “Individual parts that come together to make a beautiful picture.” That theme will be on display at the nonprofit’s annual breakfast on Wednesday, May 1, at the DoubleTree in Mission Valley. “Our keynote, UCLA Distinguished Professor of Education Dr. Pedro Noguera, is a riveting speaker who will talk about the critical role the community plays—everyone in the community—in supporting the education of its children.”

“Helping underserved San Diegans has been at the core of United Way’s work for nearly a century,” Sasaki concludes, “and the need for this support has never felt more important.”