DTE and United Way: Partners in building community

Published on November 15, 2021 in , ,

United Way and DTE share a long relationship of volunteerism

Jimmie Watts always knew his donations to United Way were going toward a good cause, he just didn’t know the cause would one day hit so close to home.  

Jimmie, who has worked as a lineworker at DTE Energy for 34 years, has donated to United Way since his first day on the job. But it wasn’t until his brother suffered a massive stroke and was helped by a United Way-funded transit authority that Jimmie said he finally understood the full power of a United Way donation. 

Jimmie Watts

This year, thousands of DTE employees like Jimmie will join to help us meet our goal of raising $40 million in donations and generating 40,000 volunteer hours as part of our 2021-22“Light the Way” Torch Drive. During last year’s campaign, DTE employees and alumni raised $2.3 million with their foundation’s matching program to support United Way for Southeastern Michigan.  This year, Jerry Norcia, president and CEO of DTE Energy, is serving as co-chair of our campaign cabinet. He will lead fundraising efforts across our hundreds of corporate partners to ensure that our important work can continue. Mark Stiers, president, DTE Vantage and Energy Trading, at DTE Energy, is serving as the chair of United Way’s board of directors.

“Thanks to the contributions of corporations and partners, we are helping people in need every single day,” Mark said.

Last year, we invested more than $36 million from our COVID-19 Community Response Fund alone. But there is more work to do and more people to help. United Way serves a critical role in our region, funding impactful, sustainable programs that truly help households overcome crisis and take steps toward stability and prosperity. 

Decades of partnership 

Women of Influence summit, which DTE sponsors every year

As two stalwarts of Southeastern Michigan with more than 250 years of history between them, DTE and United Way for Southeastern Michigan have partnered for four decades to support local families. The partnership includes corporate and employee funding, volunteerism, and board and cabinet leadership.  

Most notablyDTE provides substantial support for United Way’s utility assistance program. Through our 2-1-1 helpline, we help thousands of households each year get onto affordable utility payment plans, lower their heating and electricity bills, and connect with financial support. 

Community investment and development are core DTE values, according to Tina Saad, program manager for DTE’s alumni network and United Way campaign. The company has a long history of charitable giving and employee volunteerism. Before the pandemic paused many in-person volunteer opportunities, DTE was recognized as best-in-class for volunteerism, with more than 50 percent of its workforce volunteering each year. 

Tina said United Way’s mission to build stable households where children can thrive resonates deeply within DTE’s network of 10,000-plus employees.  

She recently received a call from an alumnus who worked 40 years at DTE before retiring in 1988. Thirty-three years later, he continues to give annually to United Way. 

“It’s really cool that people continue to believe in United Way all these years later,” said Tina. “It says a lot about the impact.” 

Rising to the occasion 

In her role as program manager for the organization’s annual campaign, Tina meets with DTE’s business units across the region. She is often surprised by her colleagues’ unique motivations for contributing year after year. 

“We unearth a lot of personal stories as we start to build comradery around the campaign,” Tina said. “We find people who are successful now who needed to call United Way’s 2-1-1 helpline for assistance at some point in the past. It puts it all into perspective that absolutely anyone could need help at any time.” 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan, the community needs that were already evident grew exponentially.  

“The past year presented unprecedented challenges and also many opportunities,” said Dr. Darienne Hudson president and CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan. “We have been honored to have DTE by our side to support our utility assistance program, health, basic needs, and other programs to help families recover from the losses and stresses of the pandemic and thrive.” 

In March, DTE once again was the premier sponsor of our Women of Influence Summit, raising funds to grow access to quality early childhood education in our region.  

Then in July, when flooding left thousands of Metro Detroit families without transportation or safe places to live, Mark Stiers personally stepped up to support our Crisis and Recovery Fund. 

Tina Saad and Mark Stiers

Aiming higher 

“We truly care about our customers and want to make sure they are doing well,” Tina said. “That means more than just saying they can afford to pay their bill; that means they have access to every resource they need to thrive. Our partnership with United Way helps us do that.”  

Throughout the remainder of 2021, DTE employees will engage in internal football-themed competitions to raise funds for the community with each director vying for the top spot. 

Last year, DTE had difficulty tracking fundraising data in real-time. United Way’s Research and Learning Team helped develop a dashboard that will measure DTE team and individual data to see how they’re tracking against their goals, allowing teams to adjust their strategy as needed to ensure success. 

Tina calls the dashboard “a huge win,” adding that it’s a great example of how United Way and DTE can come together for continuous improvement. 

“The insights that we can provide to each other – that’s the important part. You don’t know what you don’t know. We’re always trying to solve problems within the community, but if we’re not looking to the right people, we’re not going to be able to move the needle on the problem long-term and help people live better lives.” 

Volunteers help to make care packages

To make a donation during our Light the Way campaign, visit www.unitedwaysem.org/donate.