Personalities of Pittsburgh: Bobbi Watt Geer, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

By Nate Doughty  – Intern, Pittsburgh Business Times

7 hours ago

Every day shortly after 5 a.m., Bobbi Watt Geer joins a small group who are the first through the doors of the Sampson Family YMCA in Plum. This daily regimen is one of her few regular routines because her new position as president and CEO of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania has her constantly on the move with no two days ever the same. As the first woman to hold this role in the organization’s 92-year history, she brings decades of experience in the nonprofit sector.

What does it mean for you to be named the first woman appointed CEO of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania?

It means a lot to me. In the nonprofit sector, about 75 percent of the jobs are filled by women, but much less common is to see women in leadership roles in mid to larger nonprofit organizations, so it means a lot to be appointed into this role, and I think it helps us as a community to take steps to be a more diverse and inclusive and equitable region. I’m happy to be a part of some of the recent announcements that we have seen that have made for more diverse leadership in our community.

 Why have you worked exclusively in the nonprofit sector?

It’s really personal to me. I grew up in a hardworking, blue-collar family in the Alle-Kiski Valley, which would be the Apollo area, southern Armstrong County, and I’ve experienced some of the (same) challenges (as the) people we serve … and it’s deeply meaningful to me because I’ve experienced some of those challenges growing up in this region. (It’s) knowing that we can provide programs and support that help young children get a good start in life, that help financially struggling families find more stability in their lives, to help people with disabilities be able to work, if they want to work, to help seniors have the support systems around them to continue living at home as long as is possible.

 Does this role, then, require this kind of upbringing to be successful?

I don’t think it’s a prerequisite, but I think that it provides me with a certain lens and a compassion and an empathy for people who are in need. I know that it guides me as a leader of this kind of organization and that I understand some of those challenges. I was a caregiver for my great-grandmother for a number of years, and it really helped me understand some of the struggles that older adults face in the community. It just really informs the work for me.

 What have you enjoyed most about working in the nonprofit sector?

One of the common threads, despite what the mission of that particular organization happened to be, was the ability to work with volunteers and volunteer leaders. I was almost 21-years-old when I started working with bank presidents and entrepreneurs, people who really wanted to make a difference in their community. The nature of the work that we do in the nonprofit sector is so heavily reliant on volunteers who are so willing to devote their time and energy to a particular cause.

How have your prior experiences prepared you for this role?

I’ve been pretty lucky to have a number of leadership roles in the nonprofit sector. I graduated college young. I was 21, and I started my first job in Johnstown where I was responsible for four boards of directors across four counties, to do fundraising, to do communications, to do programs, to do volunteer engagement, and I supervised an office staff of seven. It taught me a lot of resilience.

 What is your favorite activity you enjoy doing with your family?

We love to travel together as a family and take new adventures. Last year, we camped in Yellowstone National Park for a week in a tent when it went down to 34 degrees each night. We just got back from an Apostle Islands camping and kayaking trip at Lake Superior, where we were challenged by two-to-three foot waves on the lake during a four-hour paddle. We try something new every year.

If you could travel anywhere in the world for a month, where would it be?

While I want to travel more extensively outside of the U.S., if I had a month, I would travel to the 18 states in the U.S. that I haven’t yet visited.

 Who do you look up to most and why?

There are a lot of people I look up to, so many mentors, friends and colleagues, but if forced to pick one, I would say my great-grandmother, Nonnie, with whom I spent so much of my time growing up. She taught me so much about how to be a good person; once you have that, everything else can follow more easily. She was an Italian immigrant and a widow who devoted herself to her family, particularly me. She was generous, always present, my biggest fan, but also someone who would snap me back in line if I did something that wasn’t kind. She lived to be 98, and I am so lucky to have had her shape my character.


Title: President and CEO, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

Age: 53

Education: B.A., communications, University of Pittsburgh; M.S., nonprofit management, Robert Morris University; Ph.D., public administration and public policy, University of Pittsburgh

Residence: Murrysville

Family: Partner, Kristy Trautmann; 23-year-old son Samuel Geer; and 11-year-old daughter Katie Trautmann

Hobbies: Hiking, biking and a roller coaster enthusiast

View on Pittsburgh Business Time’s Website.