Debby Hampton

Debby Hampton is president and chief executive officer of United Way of Central Oklahoma. The organization funds more than 125 charitable programs and, in recent years, raises more than $20 million annually to do so. Hampton responded via email to the following questions, and her responses were lightly edited for grammar and style.


How long have you worked for the United Way of Central Oklahoma, and what have you learned along the way?

On Nov. 1, I will begin my sixth year with United Way of Central Oklahoma. I continue to learn so much from our incredible community. United Way is fortunate to have such strong board leadership as well as corporate, foundation and nonprofit expertise.

What is the biggest misconception about the United Way?

I believe the biggest misconception is that we are only a funder. Most do not realize that we produce some of the strongest research publications on health and social services in the state. We also convene groups of stakeholders to take on an issue that impacts central Oklahoma and, combined, will solve it.

Some people might say the United Way picks winners and losers and can make it hard for smaller community nonprofits to compete for donations. Other people might say donating to the United Way ensures oversight of their dollars. How do you choose who receives funding, and what do you tell nonprofits who don’t?

I am the first to say it is not easy to be a United Way partner agency due to our high standards for accountability, transparency, results and outcomes, but size of a nonprofit should not hinder being accountable. I feel that our donors give to United Way knowing the dollars will be spent wisely and make an impact, thus ensuring community needs will be met and solved. You could say we are similar to the Good Housekeeping seal for the health and social service nonprofit organizations.

How much money will United Way of Central Oklahoma disperse this year, and what is one project receiving support that most people have never heard of?

Until the 2015 campaign concludes, I will not be able to tell you how much money the United Way of Central Oklahoma will disperse, but, in past years, it has been well over $20 million. We fund over 125 programs, covering everything from disaster services to day care for the elderly. We are also currently looking at mental health and substance abuse long-term housing programs to assist the increased needs of our community.

How does the United Way approach years like this when the energy economy is sagging in Oklahoma? If state revenue for social services decline AND donations for nonprofits decline, what sort of impact could that have on communities?

United Way has been in our community for over 92 years. We have seen the ups and downs of our economy, but what we have found is, when the economy is down, individuals realize even more the need and they continue to give. If not monetarily, they will give by volunteering. We are fortunate to live in one of the most giving states in our nation.

What’s the biggest thing that you’d like to see change regarding nonprofits in Oklahoma?

Although nonprofits collaborate, I believe we could improve in this area, even work together to merge nonprofits to be stronger and [reduce] administrative-overhead costs.

What’s the biggest issue that state government could address to help maximize the efforts of nonprofits that the United Way funds?

That is a great question. United Way of Central Oklahoma is beginning this year to take our research publications related to health and social services to our government officials. We know they have such a huge workload during session that it is almost impossible to stay current on the needs in our community, so we want to be a subject-matter expert in the area of health and social services and give them information to determine how to best fund the needs and programs that are strong and making an impact. We all want Oklahoma to stay strong and be a great place to live and raise our children.

If you were going to commission a movie to be made about one nonprofit in central Oklahoma, who would it be and why?

That is a difficult question to answer. We have so many incredible nonprofits in central Oklahoma, it would be hard to pick just one. I guess I would say it should be about many nonprofits and not just one, but it would need to show the strength of the nonprofit sector, the compassion, the accountability, but also how the sector actually saves our tax payers’ dollars by providing services with volunteers and not just paid staff.

If the United Way of Central Oklahoma had to choose one animal as its mascot, what kind of animal would you choose?

Well, that is easy: Wouldn’t everyone in Oklahoma want Rumble the Bison?