Michelle Taylor has served Delaware’s communities through her work at United Way of Delaware for almost 20 years – more than half of that as the organization’s president & CEO, where she leads the organization’s focus on early education, college and career readiness, and financial stability in eight “promise communities.” She is an important voice among Delaware’s nonprofit infrastructure, and always exhibits a deep passion for those who have fewer resources and greater need. Michelle serves on a number of local boards (including as an ex oficio member of the DCF Board.)
5 Questions with Michelle Taylor
What motivated you to get involved in public service?
I’ve always been involved in the public service sector, which is what I believe I’ve been called to do. Every day, I get to work with amazing people and together we’re changing lives for the better across our community. The fact is, if you love what you’re doing like I do, you never really work a day in your life. And public service work is definitely what I love doing.
What community endeavors are you proudest to engage in?
I’m most proud of our collective work with partners on issues of common cause, especially when we can leverage United Way’s breadth of relationships. As I look back, one thing I am proud of is United Way’s leadership in Governor Markell’s effort to organize and launch Delaware Stars. In those early years, United Way was part of a group of determined advocates who saw the value of ensuring that children were prepared to succeed in school, and who stuck with it and propelled that work forward. Today, Delaware Stars is a given; but at that time, it was not. And so, I’m proud that United Way was a part of laying that foundation.
How does your organization contribute to expanding opportunity for people in Delaware?
United Way is focused on changing more than the conditions we see in our under-served communities. Our real goal is to change the long-term trajectory for the people living in these communities, and by doing that, to change the trajectory for the entire community. We work at both the systemic level, on things like advocacy and policy, and at the grassroots level on programming that impacts people where they live. We focus on evidence-based strategies, on working with the right partners, and on advocating for communities of greatest need. It’s not easy, and not every organization has the capacity to do that. But I think working to change the trajectory of our community is one of our sweet spots.
Is there a philanthropist or philanthropic organization that inspires you?
I’ve been fortunate to work with so many who’ve inspired me; identifying one by name is nearly impossible. But I can tell you the qualities that these individuals have in common. Each is able to look beyond themselves, and beyond the immediate situation, and to feel true empathy, not pity, for those who may not be as fortunate. Knowing that but for a chance encounter, a lucky break, or even the zip code where they were born that they too might be walking a different path in life, they never lose sight that we’re all in this together. I’m also struck by the fact that these people never seek credit for what they do. I find all of that pretty inspiring.
If you could do one thing to increase equity in Delaware, what would you do?
I’d be sure every child in Delaware was reading on grade level by the end of third grade. That’s when kids stop learning to read and start reading to learn. Doing that one thing alone would make Delaware a more equitable place because it would even the playing field. If every child, regardless of zip code, was reading on grade level, and had equitable access to resources, we could increase equity in Delaware in a generation. The great thing is this: We know how to do it. What’s required now is the will.
About 5Qs: Each month, we ask local philanthropic leaders to answer five questions about how they view philanthropy in their work, their lives, or their organizations. It’s a chance to hear from people we all know, and some you may not know – but in a different way. This is the second in the series.