Five Questions With Cortney Nicolato


Cortney Nicolato | President & CEO, United Way of Rhode Island

1 What experiences will you draw on as United Way’s new president and CEO?

Rhode Islanders work best when we collaborate and there’s a lot we can change [when] working together. In former roles, I built both international and domestic partnerships to create large-scale systems change. I’ll use what I learned [there] to work with corporate, government and community leaders to break down systems that don’t serve us well and create new opportunities.

For example, every Rhode Islander should be able to find a home that they can afford, but that’s not the case.

2 What have you learned in your first few months on the job?

Rhode Islanders are clearly passionate about helping [one another]. I’m impressed by the work we are seeing in key areas, but also see opportunities.

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For instance, we have to get to the root cause of chronic absenteeism in our state. Twelve percent of third-graders are out of school more than 10 percent of the year. … It will take innovative programming and policy.

3 What are the biggest challenges to encouraging philanthropy today?

The definition of philanthropy is changing, it is becoming more individualized. Donors are very savvy. They want to experience the mission firsthand. Many will volunteer as a first step and then consider making a gift. Also, donors want to see the impact of their gift through client stories and outcomes.

This evolution will require nonprofits to continue to cultivate meaningful volunteer experiences and use data to help demonstrate impact.

4 How are those forces playing out locally?

I am motivated by the work I’m seeing with our Young Leaders Circle. This group of more than 1,500 [young professionals] raises funds to send local children to summer learning programs.

Our Women United members also inspire. They have dedicated their time and resources to improving childhood literacy.

5 What are your goals for UWRI?

UWRI has had a strong, statewide presence for more than 92 years. So, at the top of my list is building on our legacy.

I’ll also seek opportunities to support new, innovative solutions to some of our most significant community challenges.

Finally, I want to make sure giving is not only meaningful but fun for all.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email,

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