Jennifer Sampson, the president and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, has big ideas and isn’t afraid to implement them. That’s the reason there are a couple hundred thousand fewer impoverished people in Dallas than if trends had continued, and why a popular nonprofit restaurant has slashed the recidivism rate of the juvenile offenders who work there.
“We are trailblazers,” Sampson says. “We work with a staff and a board that has a healthy appetite for taking smart and strategic risk.”
She’s not kidding. C-suite executives from AT&T, Frito-Lay and Toyota North America all sit on the nonprofit’s high-powered board.
Each United Way chapter operates independently, and Sampson has taken the Dallas agency well beyond the organization’s standard employee-giving fundraising and community grants. One new initiative is the GroundFloor program to nurture promising social ventures. It is responsible for several meaningful successes, such as Cafe Momentum, led by a professional chef and staffed entirely with released young offenders.
Sampson’s impact will be felt for decades via a $100 million endowment drive that launched in 2015 and is already at $56 million. That fund is separate from the annual campaign, which topped $61 million this year and was led by legendary former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. A native of nearby Arlington, Sampson was an auditor at Arthur Andersen before joining United Way of Metropolitan Dallas in 2001 as senior vice president and chief financial officer. She rose to chief operating officer in 2004 and CEO and president in 2011.
Along the way, she abandoned the dark suits and sensible shoes of an accountant, embracing sculptural ready-to-wear and custom fashions by Dallas designer Tish Cox. “I’ve become more confident in my own skin and my personal style reflects that,” she says. “One of my guiding principles in life—and in fashion—is to live faithfully to your authentic self.”