By Victoria Kidd
The United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley’s brochure asks a bold question. “What happens when people work together?” It’s a question answered every year during their annual Day of Caring. On a particular day in the waning weeks of summer, hundreds of volunteers from the Top of Virginia Region come together to spend time completing volunteer service in the area. With Joe Shtulman leaving the United Way after an incredible and successful tenure of 14 years, someone new is at the helm for this year’s Day of Caring.
A little under a year ago, the organization announced that its executive search committee had selected Nadine Pottinga to succeed the much-loved Shtulman. Pottinga leaves a role as the director of development for the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation. It has been reported that she was able to grow the foundation’s income by more than $1 million. Prior to that role, she led a campaign to garner $2 million as the executive director of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Pottinga claims that her ability to lead organizations and build the relationships needed to fundraise is an unexpected derivative of her unique upbringing.
Pottinga’s parents met and fell in love while working at a hotel in England. Her mother is German, her father Dutch. Their language barrier did not prevent them from wanting to marry and start a family. They would subsequently move around a lot, pursuing opportunities in hospitality organizations that would afford them a better life. When Pottinga was a freshman in high school, her father was offered a job in Minnesota. It would be the family’s first time living in the United States. It was a difficult transition, although those before it could not necessarily be considered easy.
“I sort of always felt like a square peg in a round hole,” she explains. “ Every move was a transition, but it did make me very adaptable and flexible. It also taught me how to understand and work with all kinds of people from all types of backgrounds.”
That would prove to be an important skill when she accepted her first job with YouthWorks, a faith-based organization that, among its other programs, connects youth volunteers with nonprofits in their region to encourage service and community participation. “This is the job where I fell in love with nonprofit work,” Pottinga says. “I fell in love with the idea that I could help people learn compassion and understanding for others.”
During her time with YouthWorks, she was accountable for everything from sales and marketing to volunteer placement and project screening. She would eventually find her way to the operation’s D.C. Metropolitan Region. “I loved D.C. It was a place that made me feel a little less like that square peg. It’s really a place where there are no outsiders…I decided to stay.”
Pottinga would take a position with the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital before accepting the position with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “I loved working with nonprofits, and I loved making a difference. At the time I really just had one more goal professionally, and that was to work in some sports-related organization.”
She had grown up playing and loving sports. It was a way to fit in at any new school, in any new location. When she was offered the position with the Redskins Charitable Foundation in Ashburn, she felt she had found her place. Things were going well. She had met and married her husband, Jonathan Bullock. The pair had found a beautiful house on five acres in Clarke County. Everything was going well, but it wasn’t long before Pottinga felt something was missing from the nature of the work she was doing.
“About three months in, I realized I had made a mistake,” she says. “I’d spent so much of my career serving communities and developing others to lead service in their communities. I love seeing people work together to solve community problems. I wasn’t really doing that anymore. My work with the foundation was meaningful, but it felt different. I wasn’t really doing what I was passionate about. It felt like my first little bit of time there was a gut check. I stayed on for two years, but I missed the feeling of community and the feeling you get when you do meaningful work on a community level.”
One day early in the NFL season, she came across the announcement for the position with the United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley. “It seemed too good to be true,” Pottinga says, reflecting on the day. “It was perfect. I was so humbled and happy to have been offered this role. It is truly getting back to the roots of the type of work I first fell in love with.”
Since assuming the title at the beginning of the year, she has come to believe that this is truly “her place” and this community is unique among all others in which she has worked. “This community is the most generous one I’ve ever worked in. You can feel a sense of optimism. People really care about this community, and people here are so good, so genuine. It’s really a privilege to work at their United Way.”
As such, she is very excited about her first Day of Caring. According to www.unitedwaynsv.org, 745 volunteers representing 45 companies and clubs came together last year to complete service projects in Frederick, Clarke, Warren, and Shenandoah counties. These volunteers completed 178 service projects across 89 separate locations. Projects are submitted by area nonprofit organizations, and are vetted by a committee which examines the nature of the submitted tasks and ensures suggested worksites are safe for the volunteers. With the projects identified, volunteers (either as individuals or as groups representative of participating organizations) are assigned to worksites for that day.
There are enough projects for 900 volunteers this year. It’s something special to be a part of, and Pottinga says that she is personally moved when she considers the day’s impact. “I truly get goose bumps when I think about it,” she says. “When I step back and think about the big picture, I am overwhelmed. It’s incredible that there are so many people who want to participate, and just think about the employers who are allowing their employees to participate during working hours! I can’t wait to see it; I only wish there were more of me so I could visit each site and meet every volunteer.”
“Those volunteers are special,” she continues. “I want the whole community to know that, and I want the community to know the United Way is a place where everyone can find a way to ‘fit.’ I spent a long time considering myself a square peg trying to squeeze into a round hole. This is a place where any sized peg can belong. Our core areas of focus—education, income, and health—include so many meaningful projects. You can absolutely find something you are passionate about, and we can absolutely use your help.”
Pottinga’s words really echo the organization’s answer to the aforementioned question about what happens when people work together. Their brochure offers, “United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley believes in the power of people coming together to make communities stronger and lives better. Be part of the change. Work and play together. Let’s live united.”