Leading Ladies 2019

Leading Ladies 2019: Cortney Nicolato

President & CEO, United Way of Rhode Island

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In September 2018, Cortney Nicolato began her role as President and CEO of UNITED WAY OF RHODE ISLAND, succeeding longtime executive Anthony Maione following his retirement. Born and raised in Pawtucket and a University of Rhode Island graduate, Cortney was recruited to Texas in 2005 to pursue her career. Following a progression of executive leadership positions with the American Heart Association, she later led the largest social services nonprofit serving aging adults in North Texas.

Humbled – and excited – to come back to the Ocean State and serve the community she’s always considered home, Nicolato hit the ground running and is approaching the six-month mark of her United Way tenure.

“Rhode Islanders are so passionate about helping Rhode Islanders and I see that passion each day in our community,” she says. “If we’re going to address our most pressing social issues, it’s imperative we work together – and Rhode Islanders work best when we collaborate.”

Cultivating strategic partnerships has been a theme throughout Nicolato’s career and a guiding force as she looks to build upon the impressive work being done in many areas. It is those same areas where she also sees opportunities to address issues at their root cause. Among them are identifying why 12 percent of third graders miss more than 10 percent (over 15 days) of the school year. This chronic absenteeism plays a significant role in students’ ability to learn, particularly at an age when a child’s grade-level reading proficiency is a strong indicator of future academic success and, subsequently, their career path.

“We know this issue is rooted deeply in meeting children’s basic needs. We also know it will take innovative programming and policy to solve it,” says Nicolato. “For example, every Rhode Islander should be able to find a home they can afford, but that’s not the case today.”

As United Way of Rhode Island sits uniquely at the intersection of nonprofit, business, government, and community, Nicolato is energized by the diversity of ideas presented to make our communities stronger.

“No matter where people stand on a particular issue, when they come to the table to find ways to help their neighbors, that is what comes before anything else,” she adds.

Nicolato is quick to highlight the important, yet evolving, role philanthropy plays in United Way’s work, embracing donors’ move to want to experience the mission firsthand – and then consider making a gift. “It’s cultivating these meaningful volunteer experiences and relationships that demonstrate the cumulative impact we can all have,” she says.

Two groups she points to as examples are United Way’s Young Leaders Circle and its Women United affinity group. More than 1,500 members strong, YLC raises funds to send local kids to summer learning programs, while Women United members dedicate their time and resources to improving childhood literacy.

“We’ve also grown the volunteer opportunities available to families and their children. There’s incredible interest in wanting to volunteer together and pass down the importance of helping others,” she says.

Throughout United Way of Rhode Island’s 92-year history, seeking innovative ideas and welcoming an outside-the-box approach to solve community challenges have been instrumental in defining the organization’s legacy. And as United Way moves forward into its next chapter, Nicolato welcomes all who wish to contribute and join “our” work. Follow her on Twitter @CortneyNic, or reach her at cortney.nicolato@uwri.org. 

United Way of Rhode Island

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