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Updated: June 18, 2021

Two United Way groups merge to boost their impact across southern Maine

Liz Cotter Schlax in United Way office talking to someone in a conference room Photo / Tim Greenway Liz Cotter Schlax, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Portland, will serve in the same capacity at the new United Way of Southern Maine.

United Way of Greater Portland and United Way of York County are merging to bolster their community impact through a new nonprofit entity to be called United Way of Southern Maine, they announced on Thursday.

The merger, set to take effect July 1, will be followed by a fundraising campaign this fall to support programs and strategic initiatives across southern Maine.

In Thursday's announcement, the groups said that they had been in extended discussions about coming together since late last year, and that southern Maine communities will benefit from the added capabilities and support the new organization will bring.

Liz Cotter Schlax, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Portland and a 2019 Mainebiz Woman to Watch honoree, will serve in the same capacity at United Way of Southern Maine.

She told Mainebiz that the combined annual budget of the new organization will be about $9.7 million, and that there are currently 35 employees at United Way of Greater Portland and six at United Way of York County.

All staff will remain after the combination except for Brian Petrovek, the current President and CEO of United Way of York County. He will return to the hockey industry, and a career spanning five decades, as president and alternate governor of the Colorado Eagles, the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.

Talks between the two United Way organizations started late last year, after numerous occasions on which the groups had partnered in the past. Cotter Schlax said that includes last fall's decision for United Way of Greater Portland to manage the accounting for United Way of York County, following a staff departure there.

That move sparked the idea of a full merger of equals, followed by months of discussions by the boards and key leaders from both groups, she explained.

"The fundamental reason for this new model is simple: together, we can make the most meaningful, lasting impact in education, financial stability and health across the two-county footprint by leveraging resources, talent, relationships and best practices," she told Mainebiz.

She added that the new United Way of Southern Maine will offer a richer experience for all partners working with both organizations, especially those with offices in or serving in both counties.

"Previously, some corporate partners and funded partners interacted separately with both United Ways," she explained. "By becoming one, we can offer a more streamlined and consistent experience for both donors and funded agency partners."

As internal operations are integrated, local community priorities in the areas of education, financial stability and health will continue to be at the center of the work, the groups said.

“Our organizations have a long history of collaboration and shared common missions. We are thrilled that our partnership is further solidified today,” said Diane Garofalo, incoming board chair of United Way of Southern Maine, in Thursday's news release. 

Under integration efforts already underway, leaders from the two organizations concerned will serve on the new United Way of Southern Maine board and operating committees, while current staff will continue to work out of existing offices in Portland and Kennebunk. 

'Excited and hopeful'

Asked what she's looking forward to most about the new chapter, Cotter Schlax said, "I am excited and hopeful about the potential this merger unlocks and about being a United organization and community in the years to come. In this new structure we will have an even greater impact in southern Maine, particularly because of the passion our staff and volunteers bring to this work every day."

She also looks forward to getting to know and work with United Way volunteers and staff in York County.

"I’ve heard so much about the tremendous generosity and care that the York County community demonstrates," she said, "and I can’t want to connect with people in the community to learn more and to work together to do great things for this part of the state."

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