Faribault and Northfield United Ways Have Merged

United Way of Faribault and Northfield Area United Way legally merged July 1, 2019, becoming Rice County Area United Way.

Rice County Area United Way will serve the regions covered by the original United Ways, which together cover virtually all of Rice County and nearby portions of Dakota, Goodhue and LeSueur counties. Cities within the combined service area include not only Faribault and Northfield but also Dennison, Dundas, Kilkenny, Lonsdale, Morristown, Nerstrand, Warsaw and Webster.  

The board of directors will include members from both communities.

Penny Hillemann will serve as Rice County Area United Way’s executive director. She is a longtime Northfield resident who also has many connections in Faribault. She has served as Northfield Area United Way's executive director since May 2017.

Adam VonRuden, the outgoing executive director of United Way of Faribault, had already taken a new job but provided assistance during the transition.

Why Merge?

United Ways exist to improve lives in their communities. Very small United Ways can find it hard to be sustainable while achieving their desired community impact. United Way of Faribault is by revenue one of the smallest United Ways in Minnesota. When their executive director was ready to move on to a new job in 2018, their board of directors felt the time was right to talk with Northfield Area United Way’s board about possibilities for collaboration or merger. After a period of due diligence, the boards have concluded that a merger is in the best interests of the regional community.

Our two United Ways already had a lot in common:

  • We have very similar missions and impact goals. Like United Ways across the nation and around the world, we mobilize and unite community resources to improve lives, and we fight for the health, education and financial stability of everyone in our community.
  • We already provide grant funding to several of the same programs that serve both communities. These have recently included HealthFinders Collaborative, Exchange Club Center for Family Unity, Northfield Healthy Community Initiative/Faribault Youth Investment, HOPE Center, Project ABLE and Ruth’s House.
  • We are both regional sponsors of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a program providing free books monthly for hundreds of young children to encourage family reading and early literacy skills.


The merger will offer significant efficiencies. One benefit will be reducing total staff. Currently between them the organizations support two full-time-equivalent (FTE) staff positions. For now, 1.5 FTE (a full-time director and a half-time associate director) is sufficient for the merged organization. Since VonRuden was leaving the Faribault organization anyway, no one’s job is being cut to achieve this reduction.

Rice County Area United Way will operate from a single office, saving the operating expenses of a second office and benefiting from low overhead in the Northfield Community Resource Center.

Hillemann will be in Faribault frequently, meeting with donors, agencies, businesses and community leaders. She will also hold coffee-shop office hours in Faribault from time to time.

“I am truly excited to have the opportunity to work with the people of both communities to improve lives across our region,” Hillemann said. “We look forward to strengthening existing United Way relationships across the area and building new ones.”

The merger should have little impact on United Way grant funding across the region. For at least the first two years, and for as long after that as it continues to make sense, funds raised in each of the original United Way communities will be allocated to grants serving that area, unless donors designate otherwise.

The grant application process will be merged in 2020 while continuing to track donor location.

The Right Thing to Do

“Our boards believe merging is the right thing to do for all of us,” said Jake Piller, board president for United Way of Faribault, and Greg Closser, board president for Northfield Area United Way, in a joint statement earlier this year. “With a more efficient operation, we look forward to being able to have a greater impact for our youth, for our neighbors in need, and for the health of our whole community. Our community just got a little bigger.”

An article by Sam Wilmes in the Faribault Daily News/SouthernMinn.com said:

“The move allows for increased efficiency and effectiveness from the standpoint of the United Way and its funded agencies, Northfield Healthy Community Initiative Director Zach Pruitt said in an email. He spoke highly of local United Way staff and board members.

“‘Many of us work at a countywide level already, so this is a natural progression,’ he said. ‘It will likely streamline processes and allow us for more time and effort to be dedicated to the work at hand.’

“Erica Staab-Absher of the HOPE Center,  which advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence, said in an email it will help to have one agency advocating on behalf of Rice County agencies.

“‘By having a strong United Way, we are able to work more effectively together to help eliminate poverty, educate our community and continue to work towards a healthier collective future here in Rice County,'” she said.

“‘The benefits to our agency include one set of grants,” she said, “one set of reports and more time to put toward serving the clients who are in need of our services each and every day.'”