The first year on the job has been a busy one for August “Augie” Napoli Jr., who was named president and CEO of United Way Greater Cleveland on June 20, 2016.
During that time, he has helped initiate a new three-year strategic plan, announced earlier this month, and United Way’s board of directors announced an investment of more than $31 million into Cleveland-area health and human service programs on July 7.
But while the 65-year-old Napoli might still be fairly new at United Way, he’s been in Cleveland a long time. He was born in Pittsburgh but has lived in Northeast Ohio for more than 40 years, now residing in Cleveland Heights and attending The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood. His path to United Way has included stops at some of Cleveland’s most recognizable institutions, including the Cleveland State University Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Foundation, and most recently, as deputy director and chief advancement officer of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
“I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that an organization that is founded to serve the community has a responsibility to (keep) pace with the community, and really, ahead of the community,” Napoli said of why United Way formed a new strategic plan.
“It becomes a personal responsibility for each one of us individually to exercise our philanthropic spirit,” he said. “That’s the greatness of the United Way. It’s the ultimate, in my estimation, of community building, with the reminder for the community that we all have the responsibility to offer a helping hand and to raise the awareness to the larger community to the existence of poverty and what poverty looks like in our community today and tomorrow – and to build on a solid base so that generation after generation steps up to their personal responsibility.
“I think it’s important in our strategic plan to raise that up; the act of raising money is actually an outgrowth of the larger act of raising awareness about personal responsibility of philanthropy,” he said.
Napoli said United Way’s power is actually in harnessing the energy of the entire community to help those in need.
“It’s all about community taking responsibility for each other,” he said. “We are the means to that end. We are not the beginning and the end of it, we’re the means to that end.”
Napoli compared United Way in this regard to community organizations such as the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and Catholic Charities.
“There’s a lot of power in these organizations in terms of their impact on the social safety net and the needs of our community and fellow citizens,” he said. “To harness all of that, that’s the convening power of United Way, that’s why we were formed in the first place.”
He said he’s been fortunate in his career to work for other “unbelievable” organizations, which he considers the best in their respective areas, and considers the United Way to be another area leader he’s honored to serve.
“Warts and all, it doesn’t get any better than it does in Northeast Ohio,” he said. “To work at the highest levels of major nonprofit organizations has been the honor of a lifetime, for sure. So in considering coming to United Way, it just holds that, for me, if you’re going to put this amount of passion and time and energy into it, you want to be doing it for an organization that is best in class in its area. And while we have historically been that, we can regain a little bit of ground that we’ve lost as a result of … drift over the last few years. So to me, it’s the culmination of a career.”
Despite total donations being slightly down compared to 10 years ago, Napoli rejects that Clevelanders aren’t philanthropic.
“(It’s) not because Clevelanders are less generous or less concerned or more cynical or don’t care about their fellow man,” he said. “I absolutely reject that, totally. We are just as philanthropic as we were before. Whether you’re a millennial or an octogenarian, it’s in our DNA as Clevelanders to give.”
He said the problem has been existing models in local communities don’t apply to the world today, which is where he feels United Way’s new strategic plan will help.
“We’ve listened, we’ve heard, and we’re acting on it,” Napoli said. “We’re changing ourselves to accommodate you, because you’re just as generous as I am. … How we activate it today is different than it was 25 years ago.”
Napoli said Cleveland’s Jewish community, in particular, ranks as one of the leading Jewish communities.
“It’s not necessarily because of size, it’s because of commitment,” he said. “This is a community … a giving community. We’ve been blessed in the Jewish community to have leaders like Morton, Jack and Joe Mandel and the Ratners. Their leadership has inspired others to be leaders, and the responsibility that the Jewish community takes, beyond just philanthropy, to do this, to be that constant reminder and lead by example – I’ve been impressed by that.
“I really do believe it’s all about the leadership in the Jewish community, and that is its distinguishing factor,” he said.