YWCA Chicago: A Vibrant New Chapter With Dorri McWhorter

January 5, 2015 - 12 minutes read

2014 YWCA Leader Luncheon

Beginning with the hiring of CEO Dorri McWhorter, 2014 has been a year of powerful change for YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, a social service agency with a 138-year history.

Birk.Creative has a 16-year history of supporting YWCA Metro Chicago, from branding to launching new initiatives to grass roots promoting and leveraging of networks to create strategic alliances. This year, under its new leadership, we developed a fresh take on the YWCA’s event branding with its 2014 Leader Luncheon. The assignment was rewarding on many fronts, and the creative art we delivered contributed to the overall success of the event.

We recently spoke with new CEO Dorri McWhorter to talk about her vision for the future for this vital, Chicago-based women’s organization and how integrated marketing is an integral part of her growth strategy.

“Clear branding and integrated marketing is critical for success. People experience an organization in different ways, and our approach should be consistent across all mediums.”

Like many a high-level leader, McWhorter came into her CEO position at YWCA with preconceptions as well as goals, but she has shown a prescient ability to learn as she goes and transform her leadership as she gains enterprise knowledge and hands-on experience. A native of Wisconsin, McWhorter is presently a board member of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and was most recently a partner at the accounting firm Crowe Horwath LLP. Why did she choose to make the move into the nonprofit sphere? “I had a personal social change agenda, and taking this position at the YWCA played right into it,” she says. “I also have an understanding of what drives business and organizational progress that I bring to bear in my work on a daily basis.” Under McWhorter’s exciting new leadership, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is evolving to meet the multifaceted needs of today’s women.

Women and the World of Tech

A decade ago YWCA Metro Chicago hosted workforce-training programs for women to help them gain jobs at call centers. With that career track now outdated, the agency has moved on to training women for careers in technology, such as code and application development.

“TechGYRLS is a program we just launched this year. It’s definitely opening up new job opportunities for the first women who have completed that program, and allowing them to explore entrepreneurship as they offer tech services to businesses,” says McWhorter. “We’re transforming ourselves into a 21st-century social enterprise, so we’re looking at the types of service we offer to make sure we’re filling the needs of women in the modern era,” says McWhorter. “Information technology will be a big part of our decision making about programs—not just which programs we offer but also how we execute them. For instance, we now have electronic form submission to reduce processing time and improve service.”

YWCA Metro Chicago is also looking to collaborate with existing programs such as ComEd’s CONSTRUCT job training program, designed to bring women into utility construction trades. “We’re not a social service organization teaching random skills anymore,” says McWhorter. “We’re looking to tie the skills we teach to organizations willing to support our efforts with jobs.” YWCA Metro Chicago was able to place 10 women in electrical construction jobs this year, a number it hopes to expand in 2015.

New Frontiers, New Opportunities

YWCA Leader Luncheon 2014

In addition to this collaborative enterprise and others like it, the YWCA is actively building partnerships when it comes to awareness and marketing initiatives. “We will continue to partner with other nonprofits to expand the work we’re doing,” says McWhorter. “On the cause marketing front we’re working with [shoe designer] Jimmy Choo, to provide experience for our members and raise funds at the same time. We serve women specifically, so we have a constituency that allows us to work with nonprofits, businesses, and brands in unique ways.”

Chicago is a worldwide economic center, and YWCA Metro Chicago is at the front door of global influence in terms of how women’s issues are addressed around the globe. “We want to be part of the global conversation addressing women’s issues,” says McWhorter. “As a forward-looking 21st-century enterprise, we have the ability to create change around the world.”

That outlook gains even more credence as economic researchers note that economic opportunity for women is a leading indicator of marketplace competitiveness.

“When you suppress a voice or opportunity for women, you cannot have a successful economy; we’re now seeing the consequences of that suppression all around the world,” says McWhorter.

A Unified Message Is Key to Success

Creating a fully integrated marketing program and strong brand voice has been a major focus of McWhorter since she took the helm at YWCA.

“Clear branding and integrated marketing is critical for success. People experience an organization in different ways, and our approach should be consistent across all mediums,” says McWhorter. “We need to make sure we’re reaching people wherever they might be at a given moment. Our initiatives are not individual efforts; they have to be part of our overall approach to being a forward-thinking, modern organization.”

This concentrated approach when it comes to branding, messaging and design has already delivered solid results as shown by media coverage received by YWCA Metro Chicago in 2014, including articles in Crain’s Chicago Business, the Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation initiative and Today’s Chicago Woman. “Our new branding and messaging are working,” says McWhorter. “Content-rich stories about the work we do reinforce our messaging and prove that consistency is key to spreading the YWCA’s mission of empowering women.”

How Great Branding Helps Achieve Organizational Goals

“Our annual Leader Luncheon is a great opportunity for us to tell our story about how we connect the diverse programs we have—to an audience willing to hear that message,” she continues. “The women we honored in 2014 are examples of women using their global influence to help women all over the world. This year was especially successful because, through our stellar awardees, we told our remarkable story, raised funds, and delivered a message we want people to understand: Chicago women have relevant global impact.

YWCA Leader Luncheon 2014 Invitation

“Since we took a slightly different approach with the awardees this year, focusing on their impact outside of Chicago, our event branding needed to be reflective of that. The graphics we used and the overall marketing and creative concept—from the hot pink color to the image of the woman carrying the world—clearly stood out from previous years using YWCA orange. Our idea was to continue to move forward but with a clever twist,” says McWhorter. “The fresh branding represents the new energy and vitality of our organization and the outlook that we’re role models and innovators for critical issues for women.

“The branding established a great platform that pulled us through the rest of the luncheon. We were able to use that creative base for a custom animated video to tell our story and the stories of our awardees. Our stage graphics were colorful. Our ‘woman carrying the world’ graphic was the cornerstone of telling the story of the YWCA. The event was built around the power of the creative presentation—it was bright and hot; it sparked a buzz throughout the luncheon. United Airlines was a co-chair, so we created a simulation of an in-flight message related to the luncheon that carried our branding all the way through. We made sure to tie every piece of the luncheon together to make it fun and creative, with the message that powerful women are doing things on a global scale to change the landscape everywhere.”

The Leader Luncheon is a time-honored event that has lent weight to the efforts of the YWCA and will continue to do so. “I think it’s always going to be an opportunity to showcase our vision and quality of programs. It is a great example of who we are; we have to keep going forward and delivering on it,” says McWhorter. “As long as we keep creating a good experience for participants and focus our effort from the first piece of content they receive from us, I’ll be happy. I think our priorities are clear in creating an amazing experience.”

A Tremendous First Year With YWCA Metro Chicago

“When I arrived here at the YWCA Metro Chicago, I knew there was a lot of opportunity, but I did not have a full appreciation of its breadth,” says McWhorter. “These wonderful opportunities help me think more critically and creatively to make sure we’re leveraging the right things at the right moment. I also want to be smart about telling our story so that we’re consistent, and I’m careful to manage that across all our touch points.

“Together, with a capable and inspired staff, we’re writing a new chapter in the history of this venerable organization,” finishes McWhorter.

We look forward to helping the YWCA spread that story, adapting along with it as it evolves to help even more women across the world.

JinJa Birkenbeuel
President and CEO
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YWCA Leader Luncheon 2014