Westmoreland County native selected as new United Way CEO
United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania has decided to hire from within to replace its retiring CEO.
United Way announced Tuesday that Bobbi Watt Geer, 53, senior vice president of administration, will succeed Bob Nelkin as president and CEO, effective July 1.
Watt Geer’s selection is the result of a seven-month national search conducted by a 10-member committee in consultation with the Boston-based search firm Isaacson Miller Inc.
She was selected from among 30 candidates, who were screened from a pool of nearly 70 applicants, United Way said. The board vote in favor of Watt Geer’s hiring was unanimous.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the organization I believe in so deeply,” Watt Geer said. “I am so proud of the work we do to make a difference in the lives of people in our region, and I’m grateful for the nearly 55,000 donors and more than 17,000 volunteers who are all committed to our mission.”
A resident of Murrysville, Watt Geer joined United Way in 2007 and eventually served as president and CEO of United Way of Westmoreland County. She spearheaded its successful mergers with United Ways in Allegheny County in 2015 and Butler County in 2018, creating the current region-wide organization now serving Allegheny, Butler, Fayette, Westmoreland and Southern Armstrong counties.
Watt Geer grew up in Apollo and lived for a time in Greensburg before moving to Murrysville.
“I grew up in the Alle-Kiski Valley in a hard-working family that struggled financially. I really had to work hard to be able to afford to go to college,” she said in an interview.
Watt Geer got her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and her master’s in nonprofit management from Robert Morris University. She holds a doctorate in public administration/public policy from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
Watt Geer said working in the nonprofit sector has been a “perfect fit” for her.
Prior to her positions of increasing responsibility at United Way, she served as president of The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County and held positions at St. Anne Home, Greensburg, and the American Heart Association in Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Johnstown.
Watt Geer described United Way as a problem-solving organization that identifies pressing community issues and addresses them by bringing corporate and volunteer resources together.
“Most problems can’t be solved by one organization or one program,” she said. “We bring together the business community to help raise the funds. We bring together other partners to identify the needs. We solve those really tough human service problems in the community.”
United Way raised $37.2 million in its recently completed 2018 campaign. Its 2019 campaign is under way.
United Way garners a significant portion of donations from payroll deductions and the 1,000 workplace campaigns held annually in the five-county area. An estimated 88 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to grants and programs, with less than 12% spent on administration, according to United Way.
Watt Geer said her first priority as CEO will be to meet with business leaders, donors and volunteers.
“I look forward to quickly engaging and seamlessly working with our stakeholders across the region … to identify areas of opportunity and partnership that can make an even greater impact in our region,” she said.
An estimated 480,831 people received assistance in 2018 as a result of United Way programs or collaborations with other agencies, according to the United Way 2018 annual report.
Nelkin, who served as CEO since 2007, announced his retirement in December. He made $252,251 in annual compensation in 2016, including retirement benefits, according to the IRS.
Watt Geer’s compensation package will not be released until United Way files its IRS Form 990 for fiscal year 2020, she said.
“Bobbi is extremely knowledgeable, innovative and well-prepared to lead the organization into the future. The board looks forward to working with Bobbi to continue the mission,” said Rich Harshman, United Way board chairman and search committee co-chairman.
“Bobbi is an exceptional choice to move our regional United Way forward,” search committee Chairwoman Karen Larrimer said. “She has a deep understanding of the region’s needs and the organization, as well as insights into the innovation that will drive United Way’s growth.“
In addition to a series of interviews conducted by the search committee, the top three finalists were interviewed by United Way’s President’s Council, consisting of former board chairs and executive members of the organization’s board.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .