Heights resident Amanda McMillian, who is the new president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston, first became involved with the organization through its corporate campaign initiative.
As the executive vice president and general counsel for Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, McMillian spent 10 years supporting one of the local United Way’s largest corporate campaigns as part of the executive team.
“With each one I would learn more about what they did,” she said. “When I heard about the (CEO) job I could not stop thinking about it.”
So when her 15-year tenure at Anadarko ended, McMillian decided it was time for a change. She began her new role at the United Way on May 1.
McMillian is especially impressed with the organization’s free 211 Texas/United Way Helpline, which connected 1.3 million people with help in 2019. The helpline serves as an initial intake point for those who need assistance with food, rent, utilities and healthcare. Because of United Way’s access to a continuously updated database of community resources, it can direct people to get assistance in an expedient manner.
“The call volume is incredible,” McMillian said, noting that 70,000 calls have come in from Houston’s four-county area since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region. “They get the bird’s eye view of the kind of help people need.”
That data is helpful is determining who the agency invests in to serve the needs of people in Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Waller counties as well as the Clear Lake and Baytown areas of Houston. The United Way supports more than 100 agency partners, including BakerRipley, the Salvation Army, Family Houston and the YMCA.
With the current economic situation, United Way of Greater Houston is continuously assessing its annual budget, which was planned at $64 million before the pandemic and downturn in the energy sector.
Whatever the amount the organization has to work with this year, McMillian said there will be a careful vetting process of fund allocation as well as a strategic mindset.
She said her background has given her many skills that will be helpful in collaborating on an overall strategy and stewarding resources carefully.
“I’ve done enterprise risk management work, strategic planning, crisis management (and) worked very closely with the communications team at Anadarko,” McMillian said. “There was always a lot of stakeholder engagement.”
In her new role, she said the most fundamental thing is to serve the community’s most vulnerable, the donors and volunteers who make the work possible and the agency partners who work alongside United Way.
“We are mission-driven,” she said. “And we unite behind the mission.”
While the total number of employees of the United Way of Greater Houston – about 200 – is the same size as the department she oversaw at Anadarko, which has 4,500 employees, McMillian is adapting well to the new culture.
“There is much more opportunity to engage with staff on a personal level,” she said.
She is spending the first few months on the job listening and learning from as many people – virtually – as possible. But McMillian has an eye to the future.
The United Way’s new strategic direction, called its “Second Century Vision,” will determine the best ways to champion the area’s most vulnerable families and individuals, including the working poor and those who fall below the poverty level.
“There are more than 800,000 families in our four-county area who can’t make ends meet,” she said. “The need is so great but so is the potential for exponential impact. The United Way can decide where the best place is to use its voice and expertise. We have amazing partners and really are greater than the sum of our parts.”
McMillian wants to find ways to help individuals and families find a sustainable path toward financial success, whether that’s job training, financial planning, youth development, affordable healthcare, safety net programs or something else.
“Our goal is to create an integrated journey for clients,” she said.
Until her appointment to the United Way position, McMillian served on the board of directors of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, where she is a past president of the board, and on the advisory board of the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra. She now serves as a member of the board of trustees of Southwestern University in Georgetown.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern and received both a master’s degree and doctorate from Duke University.
McMillian resides in the Heights with her husband, Benjamin, and their two children, Grayson and Emma.
The opportunity to head up the United Way in Houston is something McMillian said is especially fulfilling because of the spirit of the city.
“People here have bigger hearts and give generously,” she said. “It feels unique.”