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PYSK: Andrew Grabau, Heart of Missouri United Way

Job description:

As the executive director, I am responsible for securing and investing community resources to support specific agency programs that provide direct social services to our community in need. I also support our agency partners in building capacity so they can continue being successful, and I serve as a community convener in raising awareness on issues of poverty in our community.

Years lived in Columbia/mid-Missouri:


Original hometown:

Joplin, Missouri.


Bachelor’s in political science from MU, master’s in public service from DePaul University.

Favorite volunteer/community activity:

Ringing the bells with my kids during the Salvation Army Red Kettle campaign. Everyone is in such high spirits, and it’s wonderful to be a part of that. The more my children can witness this, the more I hope to teach them the importance of philanthropy and community involvement.

Professional background:

I have worked in the nonprofit sector and higher education for 17 years. Before joining Heart of Missouri United Way in June 2015, I worked at MU for nine years in various programs within the Office of Advancement. Prior to MU, I worked in Chicago, for the Sigma Chi Education Foundation, and went to graduate school at DePaul University.

If I weren’t doing this for a living, I would:

I truly believe I have the perfect job. However, if my position didn’t exist, I would love to write on current domestic policy issues. Or I would like to write the captions for The New Yorker cartoons — but I’m the only one that would find them funny.

Greatest strength:

Perseverance and follow-through.

Greatest weakness:

Having to concentrate at night (I am an early morning person!).

Why I’m passionate about my company:

Heart of Missouri United Way is uniquely positioned to serve every facet of our community. United Way has been a Columbia staple for 65 years, which means we have some of the best and brightest volunteers and philanthropists devoted to our efforts. It’s an inspiration to know there are more than 700 volunteers and 240 companies that sponsor United Way campaigns, as well as 51 agency partners that are all working collectively to make individual lives and our community better.

The next challenge facing my industry:

With limited community resources, we simply cannot meet all of our community’s needs. So, we have to continuously improve in understanding measured outcomes and align those with community-wide goals so that we can invest community resources wisely for maximum impact.

Favorite place in Columbia:

There are many parts of my early morning runs that inspire me: the view of downtown from the Walnut Street water tower, running past the MU Columns, and the MKT Trail as the sun rises.



Married to Ashli Grabau, my college sweetheart (met on a blind date as freshmen at MU). Daughter, Elsi, 10, and son, Bennett, 6.

Accomplishment I’m most proud of:

Personally: running marathons. I’m not the fastest, but I have always finished them. Professionally: building the trust of the community behind United Way and the work being done to make our community stronger.

What I do for fun:

I enjoy going out to eat downtown with my wife, getting up early in the morning for a run, drinking great coffee, listening to music, and cooking.

What people should know about this profession:

Even in the face of our community’s biggest challenges, it can be so inspirational because of the people I am fortunate to work with. On any given day, I will meet with company leaders, government representatives, dedicated volunteers, retirees, agency professionals, and members of our community in need. They are all amazing, with passion, stories, and the desire to make the world better.

A favorite recent project:

United Way coordinated a community supplies drive during our 2015 campaign kick-off at Shelter Insurance. Zimmer Radio provided a live broadcast, and the Columbia Daily Tribune helped advertise it. Our partner agencies submitted their top two greatest needs, and the community drove through the Shelter Insurance circle lot to fill up multiple bins with needed items. It was beautiful to watch philanthropy in action!

A Columbia businessperson I admire and why:

Matt Williams, president at Landmark Bank, and Peter Stiepleman, superintendent at Columbia Public Schools. Both have the passion for the greater good and are outstanding people. Also, they’re humble despite their important roles in the community — and they can be quite funny.

Biggest lesson learned in business:

Always give someone the respect they deserve, look people in the eye, be empathetic to their story, and do what you say.

Why I’m passionate about my job:

I know that I am truly making a difference. I get to interact with amazing people that are dedicated to making the world a better place. I understand there is so much need in the community, so I feel grateful to be able to assist however I can in making a genuine difference in someone’s life.

My next professional goal:

Helping our community make significant and measurable advances against poverty. I also hope to help bridge the socioeconomic polarization that we are starting to see more as Columbia continues to grow.

How you would like to impact the Columbia community:

Help to foster a community that is inclusive and recognizes the need to constantly strive for goals based on equity, and to make sure that we can provide the necessary assistance and the opportunity to help move everyone in our community toward self-sufficiency.

Most people don’t know that I:

I worked in a music store in high school and college, so I love seeing the new record stores in town (where I could spend hours browsing).

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