In June 2024, Stephanie Pankratz bid farewell to her position as United Way of Calgary and Area Board Chair. Stephanie has been a long-time volunteer for United Way of Calgary and Area, dating back to 2006. A Chartered Professional Accountant and Audit Partner with KPMG LLP by profession, she made history in 2023 by becoming our first two year term Board Chair. At the Annual General Meeting, she passed the torch to incoming Board Chair, Kent Ferguson, who previously served as United Way’s Board Vice-Chair. Kent is Senior Vice President, Strategy, Sustainability and Corporate Development for Suncor.

“United Way is incredibly fortunate to have volunteer leaders like Stephanie and Kent at the helm,” says Karen Young, President & CEO. “During Stephanie’s tenure as Board Chair, she led in the renewal of our five-year strategic plan, along with a new business planning and budgeting process.  Stephanie has been a champion of diversity, equity, inclusion, and reconciliation amongst the Board, which will leave a lasting legacy. She was also a big part of the launch of Planet Youth, our newest initiative to make Calgary the best place to raise a family and be a kid. Our organization is thriving due to her visionary leadership and meaningful contributions.”

Karen also shared her excitement to welcome Kent in as Board Chair, saying “Kent is a respected leader in our community who knows United Way incredibly well. We are grateful to have his expertise and collaborative and thoughtful leadership on our Board. I am excited for all that Kent will accomplish as our new Chair.”

As Stephanie prepares to take on a new Board role, herself, as Chair of the Board’s Finance, Audit and Technology Committee – we had the opportunity to ask them a few questions and discuss their time and vision for United Way.

What’s your favourite thing about Calgary?

Kent Ferguson: The thing I love the most about Calgary is the people. There’s a strong sense of community and shared purpose here. It’s one of those places where, if you care about others and work hard, you can get ahead. Plus, there’s a real commitment to looking out for those less fortunate, which creates a unique sense of belonging.

Stephanie Pankratz: Having grown up in Calgary, I couldn’t agree more Kent. We also are lucky to live so close to the mountains, and to be able to see them from our city. That connection to nature is special and helps provide a sense of balance.

What inspired you to be the Chair of United Way?

Stephanie Pankratz: My journey began as a donor when I started working at KPMG. I got involved with running our employee campaign and attended a luncheon organized by the Women’s Leadership Council, now Women United. This piqued my interest, and I started volunteering directly with United Way. Over the years, my roles evolved, from Vice-Chair of Women United to Chair, and eventually to the Board. The passionate individuals I met, and the impactful work being done kept me deeply involved. It felt like a natural progression to take on the role of Board Chair.

Kent Ferguson: Initially, I got involved as a donor, believing in United Way’s mission to build a stronger community. That led to volunteering on the campaign cabinet which eventually led to joining the Board. The reason I’ve dedicated so much time and effort to United Way is because of its core principle of building a better Calgary. Over the years, I’ve seen the organization evolve and bring together stakeholders to solve complex social challenges. This renewed sense of purpose, inspired by Karen and the management team, is what keeps me engaged.

How has United Way shaped or changed you since beginning your volunteer journey?

Stephanie Pankratz: United Way has been an antidote to cynicism for me. It’s easy to become jaded with all the challenges we face, but my involvement with United Way keeps me optimistic about our ability to build a better community, which was seen during vital times like the 2013 floods and the pandemic. The organization amplifies its resources to make a positive impact, which has shaped my vision of what’s possible. This concept of “bounded optimism”—being optimistic within the confines of reality—resonates with me deeply.

Kent Ferguson: For me, United Way has broadened my perspective. It’s allowed me to see Calgary through the eyes of more than 130 different partner agencies and the many thousands of Calgarians that we support. Personally, I have been blessed with good health, strong support networks, and opportunity.  Not everyone has been as fortunate. The caring United Way staff, empowered by our donors, are driving positive outcomes for Calgarians in need.  It is an ecosystem that gives me confidence in the vast possibility that results from creating a united vision for a strong and thriving community for all.

What would you say to someone who wants to volunteer for United Way?

Stephanie Pankratz: Just do it! Volunteering with United Way has been incredibly rewarding and I’ve always gotten so much more out of it than I’ve put into it. I’ve always felt supported in my roles and the time I’ve invested has been returned many times over in terms of personal growth and satisfaction.

Kent Ferguson: I agree. The people involved in United Way and its partner agencies are so inspiring. The sense of joy and reward from being part of this work is immense.

Stephanie, what piece of advice would you give to Kent as the incoming Chair?

Stephanie Pankratz: Kent doesn’t really need much advice given his extensive experience with United Way. However, one thing I’ve found beneficial is maintaining regular one-on-one connections with Karen and other leaders inside of the organization. It helps to get an inside perspective and work through ideas over a longer period, making Board meetings more comfortable and familiar.

Do you have a favourite memory during your time as Chair or throughout your years of volunteerism with United Way?

Stephanie Pankratz: It’s tough to pick a favourite because there are so many great memories. Visits to places like the Genesis Centre and the Women’s Centre stand out as particularly inspiring. Also, our AGM last year was a highlight. It allowed me to reflect on my first year as Chair and apply those lessons in my second year.

Are there any achievements during your time as Chair that you’re particularly proud of?

Stephanie Pankratz: I don’t think any of the achievements are ones that I own. But I’m really proud of Planet Youth and the fact that we’re taking on something that’s multi-generational. Again, back to this idea of being a bounded optimist, you don’t take on projects that have that kind of tenure if you don’t have the optimism that you can make that impact. And I think that’s significant for us as an organization, and us as a city.

Kent, what have you learned from Stephanie during her tenure as Chair?

Kent Ferguson: Two things stand out. First, Stephanie leads with her heart, which is inspiring. Second, she uses her role as Chair to foster active listening, engagement, and debate. Her approach has been very effective in bringing diverse voices into the conversation.

What is your hope or vision for United Way during your tenure as Chair?

Kent Ferguson: If there’s one thing I’d like to see really thrive and prosper, it would be the new initiatives like Planet Youth and Healthy Aging Alberta and how can we plant the seeds for whatever the next great thing is. I’m excited about United Way’s transformation from a fundraising body to a top convener and social impact organization. It’s powerful to be bringing together various levels of government, communities, and the social sector to have the impact that you want on the quality of lives of Calgarians. That’s something that Karen is particularly good at as a CEO given her extensive career. I’d like to see that continue to be a competitive advantage for United Way.