United Way's focus for new director: fundraising

United Way's focus for new director: fundraising

CHAMPAIGN – When United Way officials went shopping for a new president and CEO, one attribute was high on the list: fundraising.

With the annual campaign stuck at just under $3 million for the last few years, board members were eager for someone who was experienced in fund development, said Emmie Fisher, board chairman for the United Way of Champaign County.

They chose Lyn Jones, senior director of development and public affairs at the University of Illinois Library and a UI fundraiser for 20 years.

The search committee looked at 24 candidates, and Jones "rose to the top very, very quickly," Fisher said.

"We were looking for somebody who was a relationship-builder and a collaborator ... to take us to the next level in our fundraising efforts. Lyn met both of those criteria beautifully," Fisher said Thursday.

Jones said she was reluctant to leave the university but excited about the prospect of working in the community.

"The mission of the United Way really resonates with me. The opportunity to really work in Champaign County and for the good of the county was very, very appealing," she said. "We're longtime residents and very committed to Champaign County, and this was a wonderful opportunity to take a lot of the skills and relationships that we've developed at the university and use them here."

Jones said she hopes to carry on the "excellent work" by her predecessor, Tammy Lemke, whom she called "an amazing leader at United Way. She has done a wonderful job. It's really a shame that the community is losing her."

Today is Lemke's last day at the agency. She and her family are relocating to the Chicago area.

Jones also wants to build on the endowment launched by the United Way three years ago called "A Shared Promise." The agency hopes to raise $3 million to endow three areas: early childhood, youth and volunteerism. The endowment is at nearly $1 million – $500,000 in cash gifts and another $450,000 in pledges, Lemke said.

The goal is to create a long-term financial legacy that will support future needs of the community, Jones said. She's confident the agency can do that and increase its annual giving.

"I think Champaign County is a very generous community," she said. "Certainly the capacity is here."

Jones joined the UI in 1985 as development director for the College of Education. She worked briefly as a program director at the UI Alumni Association before taking development jobs with the vice chancellor for student affairs office and the UI Library.

Acting University Librarian Karen Schmidt said Jones was instrumental in winning key donations for a state-of-the-art conservation lab, several endowed professorships and graduate assistantships. She also helped the library secure the papers of journalists Shana Alexander and James Reston and Romanian author Andrei Codrescu, and forged a fundraising partnership with the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.

"She is an excellent choice for the United Way," Schmidt said, "but it's a big loss to us. She's very gifted with working with the donor community and translating the passion of the organization out to the donor."

Originally from Bradley, Jones is a 1976 UI education graduate. Her first job was teaching literacy and GED classes for Urbana's Adult Education Program. In 1979, she took a job with the Champaign-Ford Regional Office of Education in Rantoul, where she administered adult education programs for six years.

She is married to Champaign County Circuit Judge Michael Jones, whom she met in 1982 when he was defending a student in her adult education program. The student had "gotten into a little scrape with the law," and she was a character reference. Mike Jones was a public defender at the time. They started dating a month later, and married in January 1983. They have one son, Christopher, a senior at the UI.

She is past president of the Executive Club of Champaign County and the Champaign County Literacy Council, a member of Champaign West Rotary and past board member of the Crisis Nursery and Eastern Illinois Foodbank. In 2001, Jones received the Athena Award from the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce.

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