Darrin Goss wants a revolution.
The chief executive officer of the Capital Area United Way doesn’t just want the organization to be known for raising money.
Goss, 43, sees the nonprofit organization as a force that can link philanthropists, local governments, charities and volunteers to improve life in the greater Baton Rouge area.
“I think we have to have a social change for those people who are underrepresented, underserved, people who are living in poverty,” Goss said. “We have to have a social change revolution.”
The Capital Area United Way is known for raising money, which it distributes to charities and nonprofit groups throughout a 10-parish region around Baton Rouge. Among the 114 programs are homeless shelters, food banks, employment training services and organizations such as Teach for America and City Year that place young adults in public schools.
Hired last year to lead the Capital Area United Way, Goss took control after an unstable period for the organization that saw three CEOs resign in six years from 2006 to 2012. Fundraising had dropped from $11.8 million in 2008 to $8.7 million in 2012. The 2013 campaign, Goss’ first in Baton Rouge, surpassed its $9.05 million goal.
“A campaign’s not everything because it’s not all about dollars in, but we can’t do anything if we don’t have dollars in,” said Scott Berg, the governance chairman on the United Way’s Board of Directors. “This is the first year in a long time that we’ve hit the campaign goal and had a positive campaign. That says a lot about his leadership.”
Goss came to the Capital Area United Way after serving as a vice president of the Greenville County United Way in upstate South Carolina. He had been an Army officer and an assistant dean of students at his alma mater, Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, before joining the nonprofit.
After four years at Wofford, Goss interviewed for a job leading a local nonprofit organization. He didn’t get it, but a member of the interview committee recommended him for a position at the United Way of Greenville County. His only experience with the United Way was giving money through a payroll deduction.
“I didn’t know what the United Way did besides collect a lot of money, like many people,” he said.
For five years he served there and he said he considered spending the remainder of his career there. Then he was recruited to Baton Rouge.
In all the talk of revolution, Goss does not plan to jettison the United Way’s most reliable fundraising tactic, the workplace campaign.
Instead he plans to “double down” on the payroll deductions while also developing new ways to give. His goal is to up the organization’s fundraising goal by 3 to 5 percent each year to reach $13.5 million in 2018.
“We think that’s the space we occupy in terms of philanthropy and giving,” Goss said, “and we’ve got to do that better than we ever have before.”
He wants to keep the local United Way relevant by creating smartphone and Internet-based fundraising campaigns similar to Kickstarter.
Goss also wants to reach out to two often overlooked groups: Retirees who faithfully gave through their workplace and still have the means to continue giving and young people under 40 who are the future of philanthropy.
In all his plans, Goss talks about accountability and clarity.
“We think we owe it to the community for the dollars we raise to answer four really important questions: How much did we do? How many people did we serve? How well did we do it? … Is any one better off?” Goss said.
This year, volunteers evaluated all 113 agencies the Capital Area United Way funds. The six that received ratings of “exceeded expectations” received more money.
Berg sees the role of the Capital Area United Way under Goss as a galvanizing force in the community, an organization that leads the Baton Rouge region in improving people’s lives.
“I really do think it’s more about thought leadership and more about getting people around a table and getting us all together, coming up with the best solution,” he said.
Goss plans to remain in Baton Rouge. He and Vee, his wife of 21 years, have a son, Darrin Goss Jr., who is in the Navy.
“We have no plans for the next 20 to 25 years,” he said, “except to be here and be part of the Baton Rouge community.”
WHAT: Capital Area United Way’s annual cook-off fundraiser, featuring live entertainment and samplings of jambalaya from teams representing companies in the CAUW workforce campaign.
WHEN: 5-8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9
WHERE: North Boulevard Town Square, downtown Baton Rouge
PLATES: $7 - Jam To-Go; $10 - Jam Sampler; $75 - Jam VIP
Editor’s note: This story was modified on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, to reflect that the Capital Area United Way serves 114 programs, not 113 agencies.