When Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. James Cawley, soon to be out of his current job, takes the helm of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey next month, he will find an organization at a crossroads.
Around the nation and locally, the payroll-deduction donation that has been the United Way's mainstay is on the decline.
"Workplace giving is down," said Laura Otten, director of the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University. "Is there an alternative model, and what do they want it to be? That's the big challenge. That's the elephant in the room."
In an interview Tuesday, Cawley said figuring out that direction will be a priority, in particular proving to the coming generation of donors that United Way's vetting process is superior to simply giving money to individual charities and causes.
In the meantime, "I'm thrilled to join an organization whose sole focus is to improve the quality of life for our most vulnerable neighbors," Cawley said in a statement released shortly after the nonprofit's board voted Tuesday morning.
He will start Feb. 9. His current job ends Tuesday.
The organization, which employs 133 people, makes grants that total $60 million throughout the region.
Otten said area nonprofits worry that as the United Way's traditional funding streams decline, it may compete for funds from the same donors they tap. And, she said, United Way is likely to come out ahead.
"They have strong relationships with corporate leaders," Otten said, "so they have a leg up in wooing corporations that too few nonprofits have."
Cawley drew praise from Mayor Nutter, who in a statement noted his "regional perspective on issues."
Mark Price, an economist with the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, had a different view, expressed via Twitter.
United Way groups "do work to help people. [You're] putting a guy in charge who spent the last 4 years increasing your case load. Oof," he wrote.
Cawley, 45, a Republican from Wrightstown, Bucks County, acknowledged that not everyone agreed with Republican Gov. Corbett's policies or personnel - particularly the governor's pick to head the Department of Public Welfare, Gary Alexander, who later resigned.
Alexander earned the enmity of many in the nonprofit community by advocating the tightening of eligibility for food stamps.
"I get that there are those that have had problems with some in the administration," Cawley said. "I'm not those people.
"My whole career has been about public service and has been about improving the quality of life for the people who were in whatever community that I was part of. I see this role as continuing that," he said.
Cawley, a lawyer, worked as an aide to State Sen. Robert M. "Tommy" Tomlinson (R., Bucks) before serving as a Bucks County commissioner. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2010.
His political experience will help in his new role, United Way board chairman Lon Greenberg said in a statement Tuesday morning.
"He has spent the majority of his career in the service of others . . . developing productive relationships and leading large groups of constituents to success," said Greenberg, who is also chairman of UGI Corp./AmeriGas.
"As lieutenant governor, he also has a unique understanding of how United Way's impact areas connect, and how strategic improvements in education, income, and health can lift the entire region," Greenberg said.
Cawley replaces Tony Conti, former managing partner of PwC Philadelphia. Conti served as interim United Way president and chief executive after CEO Jill Michal's resignation June 30. Michal had served six years.