The Unite Forever Endowment's Origin & Leadership | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

It all started in 1997 with a generous contribution of $6 million to establish an endowment for United Way of Metropolitan Dallas – a gift from Texas Utilities Company and ENSERCH Corporation thoughtfully designated by Dallas energy executives Erle Nye and David Biegler as TXU was acquiring ENSERCH. As part of the acquisition, the two companies contributed assets totaling $10 million to endow funds at both United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and United Way of Tarrant County. The Dallas United Way’s share of $6 million was the largest corporate endowment gift to a United Way organization in the nation at the time.

“As our deliberations and planning progressed, we soon realized that it would be easier to move forward and complete the acquisition without a certain piece of property,” remembered Erle Nye, former Chairman and CEO of Texas Utilities, which is now TXU. “We didn’t want to delay the acquisition and as we discussed options, decided to deed the property to charity.”

Around that corporate boardroom table, the men were unified in their choice.

“United Way of Metropolitan Dallas was the unanimous choice,” said David Biegler, who served as ENSERCH CEO at the time. “We never had a question about what made the most sense for doing the most for Dallas. United Way has always been the gold standard for corporate giving because we know and trust the vetting, selection, and accountability policies that are practiced.”

“United Way of Metropolitan Dallas was the unanimous choice”

David Biegler, Former ENSERCH CEO
United Way Foundation Board Member Emeritus Director

“We wanted an endowment – something that would last and provide consistent funding in times of unexpected needs or fluctuations in annual giving,” said Biegler, who would go on to serve as an inaugural member of the United Way Foundation of Metropolitan Dallas Board, which was established in 1999 after the sale of the contributed assets converted the endowed gift to cash. “We wanted to plant the seed for a foundation that would create, in time, a large base of endowed support.” Biegler continues to serve as a Director Emeritus to this day.

“That significant contribution took corporate giving to a new level,” said banker Chuck Gummer, who accepted the gift as Board Chair of United Way at the time. “It not only made a difference in the lives of thousands of neighbors today but will also continue to impact our local area well into the future.”

John Young and Jennifer Sampson present the Decades of Distinction Award to Erle Nye

“United Way has always been an important part of our community,” added Nye. “That fact was impressed upon me as a young Texas A&M graduate entering my first job with Dallas Power & Light in 1960, when I was asked to sign a payroll deduction pledge card for the Community Chest drive that later became the United Way. They almost immediately assigned 10 pledge cards to me and a list of people to solicit that included Lamar Hunt.”

“It quickly became apparent that all of the prominent people in Dallas worked on and contributed to the United Way campaign each year,” he said. “And once I got involved and started giving, I never stopped. I don’t think I’ve missed a year since,” said Nye, who also serves the organization as a Director Emeritus.

Now fast-forward nearly 20 years. And thanks to the foresight and generosity of several steadfast board members, the endowment’s vision and purpose began to take on new life.

“The United Way Foundation Board was a fiduciary board charged with management and oversight for many years,” said McDermott-Templeton President and CEO Jennifer Sampson. “While we often directed revenue from bequests to the Foundation, there wasn’t a targeted fundraising strategy to grow the assets – until Ed Galante, Scott Wilson, Stan Rabin, and Curt FitzGerald began to ask bold questions and inspire big dreams.”

Curt FitzGerald, Troy Aikman, Jennifer Sampson and Jason Downing

Curt FitzGerald said he remembers being asked to serve on the Foundation’s newly formed investment committee. “We were recruited to look at how the Foundation’s money was being invested, both strategically and from a cost perspective, and we faced big decisions about what the Foundation was going to be and do for United Way,” said FitzGerald.

“Through our discussions, we challenged our modest Foundation to build a much larger, higher impact, longer lasting future for United Way and the community,” he continued. “And then a spark was lit, and we began asking the questions: Can we make this bigger and better? And if so, how?”

FitzGerald said the committee spent several years asking strategic questions and studying their options. “Finally, we made that courageous decision that we could do it and should do it,” he said. “Our thinking evolved as we realized that United Way really needed a strong Foundation base to work from in the future because other sources of revenue were not going to be the same as they were in the past.”

The committee rolled up their sleeves and got to work – with Foundation Chair Ed Galante at the helm. “Ed was always a forward thinker and great organizational leader,” said FitzGerald. “And he led us through the process of figuring out how we might set our goals for building the Foundation’s assets – how boldly we might go.”

They decided to go bold.

Their vision to ensure the organization’s ability to meet community needs in perpetuity inspired an ambitious plan to exponentially grow the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Foundation’s endowment, which stood at little more than $20 million at the time. A plan publicly launched in 2015 as the $100 million Unite Forever Campaign.

Unite Forever quickly became a rallying cry for all who loved the organization’s relentless commitment to ensuring access and opportunity for all North Texans and who wanted to ensure the ability to deliver on that commitment for generations to come.

“For me, the message behind this Campaign continues to be pretty simple,” said Galante, who agreed to serve as Campaign Co-Chair after leading the vision and strategy development. “If you believe in the United Way business model and give to the annual campaign out of your paycheck, why not also support United Way out of your estate? We need your annual gift in perpetuity.”

“My wife and I began supporting United Way annually in the 1970s,” said Stan Rabin, United Way Foundation Board member, who was an early contributor to the Unite Forever Campaign.
“Nonprofits, like companies, need to invest in the future, and this is a major investment in the future of United Way and in our community.”

Stan and Barbara Rabin

Rabin also made a second gift to the campaign in honor of his late wife, Barbara, to create the Barbara Rabin Memorial Endowed Fund. He shared one of Barbara’s signature sentiments, which she often shared with family and all who knew her: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
This nice gift in her honor will drive measurable change across North Texas for future generations.
“This is a very sound campaign,” said Nye, who was also an early contributor to Unite Forever and then went on to make a second gift — more recently, after visiting with Sampson. “We have a sound basis for raising money so that the organization will have a sound base of assets for years to come.”

Both Nye and TXU have faithfully supported United Way for more than half a century. And Nye’s influence continues today as Jim Burke, president and CFO of now parent company Vistra, takes the helm as CEO later this year. Vistra’s culture of corporate giving is rooted in the strong tradition at TXU — where many employees give back, volunteer, and provide support through payroll deduction. The company is one of United Way’s top annual campaign contributors.

“Like me, Jim made a career in the TXU system, and I’m pleased that he is taking the helm,” said Nye. “I am delighted to know that he will carry the torch of support for United Way forward. Not only is he a wonderful businessman, but he is also fine, decent, high-character person.”

Burke, who also serves on the United Way Foundation Board, is an instrumental, guiding voice for Vistra’s continued commitment to United Way. He and his wife, Marti, support United Way annually and are major contributors to Unite Forever.

“We are excited to support United Way and know this gift will help strengthen a generation after ours, just as Erle Nye and many company leaders have done for decades,” said Burke. “Jennifer and her leadership team are setting United Way up for the long-term, and we want to be a part of that legacy. The show of support from others who feel the same way speaks for itself.”

“I am not at all surprised by the response to Unite Forever,” added Nye, “because for thoughtful, philanthropic people – and there are a lot them in Dallas – the collective idea of dispersing funds in an efficient fashion to support the community in its growth, development, and prosperity just makes sense. People understand that having a Foundation that generates a certain amount of income each year is a sound business practice and is a good use of philanthropic funds.”

In the days ahead, we will share stories of others whose leadership giving demonstrates their belief in “uniting forever.” Their investments to build the Foundation’s endowment are already yielding growth and increased capacity to create life-changing impact across North Texas.

Missed the first story in our special endowment series?

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