New Berkshire United Way CEO ready to meet, listen — and learn

Candace Winkler is stepping down as president and CEO of the Berkshire United Way, to take a leadership position with a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. “It was a really difficult decision,” she says.

PITTSFIELD — Candace Winkler, who guided the Berkshire United Way through the COVID-19 pandemic, is stepping down as president and CEO at the end of August.

Winkler, who had replaced longtime president and CEO Kristine Hazzard when she retired in 2019, is leaving to take a leadership position with a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

She will be replaced on an interim basis by board member Laurie Gallagher, a retired former executive at Sabic Innovative Plastics who will serve as president and CEO until a permanent replacement is found.

The board is forming a search committee, which will be co-chaired by Chair Emeritus Christina Wynn and board member Pat Callahan, who once served as a job recruiter for Wells Fargo. Art Milano, a past board member and longtime human resources professional, will help manage the search process.

The board conducted a nationwide search to find Hazzard’s successor two years ago, and board Chair Mike Stoddard said he expects this search to go along similar lines.

“I think we want to get the right person,” Stoddard said when asked if the board had a timetable for finding Winkler’s replacement. “Obviously, we want to do it by the end of the year.”

The Berkshire United Way, founded in 1924 as a community organization, was restructured in 2008 as a federal fundraiser with several member agencies. It funds 42 programs belonging to 28 local organizations.

Winkler, who originally is from South Carolina, said she wasn’t allowed to disclose the name of her new employer at this time but said the firm is a $50 million organization that focuses on early childhood education and has “hundreds of staff.”

She will work remotely from her home in Lenox, while making monthly visits to the nation’s capital. Winkler said she plans to remain a Berkshire United Way volunteer, and noted that she probably wouldn’t have left her post if her new employer didn’t allow her to work mostly from home.

“This is kind of a career-changing opportunity for me. It’s not one that I was soliciting. I was called by a recruiter,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to work in a national organization, a much larger organization, and it just provides an opportunity for me to have a greater impact on a national level.

“I very much enjoyed my time at Berkshire United Way,” she said. “I wasn’t looking to make a move, but this is an opportunity that just fell in my lap.”

Winkler has spent her entire professional career in nonprofit management. Before coming to the Berkshires, all of her previous experience had been on the West Coast, at different organizations in Alaska and California. Winkler and her husband, a graduate of the University of Vermont, originally moved east to be closer to friends and family. The couple met in Alaska, where they lived for almost 20 years.

Winkler said she is proud of the way the Berkshire United Way has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 16 months. In March 2020, the organization and three other Berkshire nonprofits formed the COVID-19 Emergency Fund for Berkshire County that distributed $2 million during its first six months of operation through 132 grants to 95 nonprofits.

The Berkshire United Way opened a virtual volunteer center in November and also sold the space that it has occupied for several years at 200 South St. in Pittsfield for almost $700,000 in July 2020. The move allowed the organization to go from a landlord to a tenant and focus more clearly on its mission of charitable giving.

“A surprise,” Stoddard said, referring to Winkler’s decision to leave. “But, I always think that a healthy organization is one where you’re developing people. What she did in the last two years is remarkable. It’s no secret that she went on to a good organization. ... We’re happy for her.”

“From the bottom of my heart, it was a great honor to serve as the CEO of this really important organization,” Winkler said. “It was a really difficult decision. I have the utmost respect for all the donors, staff and the board and will continue to be involved as a resident of Berkshire County.”

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-2755 on Twitter: @tonydobrow.