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Robert Woods, longtime York County United Way exec, to retire in 2018

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Robert Woods
Robert Woods - (Photo / )

Robert Woods, who has served as executive director of the United Way of York County for 25 years, plans to retire in the coming year, the organization said Thursday.

Woods expects to step down effective June 29, 2018. A group of local volunteers is leading the search for his replacement.

The announcement is a bittersweet one for Woods, who moved to York County from his home state of Michigan to lead the United Way chapter in June 1992.

"It has been a fantastic ride here in York County," Woods said Thursday. "I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. We raised our son here. It’s just been a great place to live, work and play, and I can’t thank people enough for all their support of me, my family and the organization."

Woods, 65, started his career with the United Way in 1980 as a field representative in Michigan. He helped smaller United Way organizations with tasks like setting up fundraising campaigns and allocating funds to local charities.

He gradually took on larger roles in Michigan and aspired to continue climbing the organization's ranks. When the executive director position opened up in York, he saw an opportunity to take another step up in his career.

Woods planned to stay in the county only three to five years before moving on to larger roles. But he never left. He and his wife still live in the area - currently in Spring Garden Township - and their now-grown son graduated from York Suburban School District.

"York was big enough that you could raise enough money yet small enough that you could actually see where you invested that money that you actually had impact," Woods said.

The United Way of York County has raised close to $157 million in its 25 years under Woods' leadership. In that time, Woods has helped the organization make numerous changes in order to keep up with rapid advances in technology and the economy.

Among the challenges the organization faced in that time was the downsizing of companies like Caterpillar and Harley-Davidson, whose employees had long provided a large share of the United Way chapter's funding. 

Woods spearheaded efforts to evolve the organization's funding model through a major push to encourage more donors to make leadership gifts, defined as donations of $1,000 or more. Those large donations have grown from 7 percent of the organization's annual fundraising in the 1990s to 46 percent today.

Woods also oversaw the creation of numerous community initiatives in his time at the helm, particularly in the area of early childhood education. Among them was a program called Focus, which the United Way chapter co-founded in 1994 in an effort to provide children under the age of 5 with access to nationally accredited educational programs.

Looking back at the last 25 years, Woods marvels at the fact that he often found himself on the phone with the CEO of a large company one minute, then, just a few hours later, at the Salvation Army handing out coats or in a day care reading books to children the next.

Leaving is hard, Woods said, but he looks forward to spending more time with his family during his retirement, and possibly getting involved in local politics. He also hopes to do more "hammer-and-nails"-type charitable work, perhaps through an organization like Habitat for Humanity.

The United Way plans to kick off its search for a new executive director in the coming weeks. Amy Wannemacher, chair-elect for the United Way of York County board of directors, will lead the search with help from a volunteer committee and a search company called Nonprofit Talent.

United Way board chair Joe Rilatt will oversee the new director's transition. The chapter is in its first year of a three-year comprehensive plan, which will carry its new leader through the early stages of his or her tenure.

Woods hope to see the new person build on the United Way of York County's momentum while taking advantage of opportunities presented by technologies like social media.

"I’ve really loved the work, but things are now changing. Technology is changing a lot of different things in terms of fundraising," Woods said. "While I think it’s a very exciting time, I think it’s time for a person who’s maybe a little younger, with some new blood and new skills, to be brought in."

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Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz covers Lancaster County, York County, financial services, taxation and legal services. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at Follow her on Twitter, @jenni_wentz.

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