Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Good choice for United Way

March 2, 2013

When the longtime CEO of United Way of Central Indiana last year announced her plans to retire, the not-for-profit’s board embarked on a search for a seasoned executive with deep community ties.

They found both in Ann D. Murtlow.

Murtlow, 52, will take the helm at United Way on April 1, two years after she stepped down as CEO of Indianapolis Power and Light Co. to focus on family endeavors. Murtlow will replace United Way President and CEO Ellen Annala, who is retiring at the end of March after 23 years with the organization.

Selecting new leaders represents an opportunity for any organization, a chance for a fresh perspective that could lead to innovative ideas and operational improvements. The stakes were particularly high in the case of the United Way, given the agency’s important role in central Indiana.

The Murtlow pick looks smart. She is a New York City native who moved to Indianapolis in 2002 to become president and CEO of IPL soon after AES acquired the local electric company. She spent nearly a decade leading the company through a tumultuous period, helping to rebuild the public’s trust in a utility that had been sullied by a troubled acquisition.

From the beginning of her tenure at IPL, Murtlow invested in building community ties, serving on several local not-for-profit boards including Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, the Indianapolis Zoo and Economic Club of Indiana.

Last year, Murtlow co-chaired the tissue-collection committee for Indy’s Super Cure, a partnership between the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee and the Susan B. Komen Tissue Bank.

Murtlow will face plenty of challenges. She’s taking over in a difficult fundraising environment: Unemployment remains high, raises are skimpy for those with work and big gifts are rare (See related story on page 7).

United Way’s direct access to donors through workplace campaigns has given it an advantage over other charitable causes. But as companies tighten their own belts, the days of elaborate events to drive donations likely are gone—along with the hard sell to employees.

Needs also are higher when times are tough, particularly at human-services agencies like the ones United Way of Central Indiana supports (to the tune of $22.5 million in 2011, out of a total community investment of $50 million).

The transition from the C-suite to charitable organization can be difficult for a variety of reasons ranging from office culture to fundraising demands. But by all indications, Murtlow is up to the task.•

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