“Sometimes ‘no’ does not mean ‘no,’; it simply means
there is another way to get something done.”
~ Brittany Pruitt Fletcher
Over the years, Brittany Pruitt Fletcher has become accustomed to being one of the younger voices among her peers. Accompanied by her small stature, she is quite often overlooked—literally and figuratively.
It does not take long before you realize Pruitt Fletcher (who is 38 years old and stands at 5-feet tall) is a model of competency and grace under pressure—from her humble beginnings growing up lower-middle class in rural North Carolina, to her current role as president and CEO of United Way of North Carolina (UWNC).
Imagine starting a new job, and four of the key leaders in your organization leave—not because of you, just bad timing. These others either retired, got promoted to United Way Worldwide, or stepped into an opportunity better aligned with their career aspirations.
That scenario has been the life of Pruitt Fletcher this past year since she took the helm of UWNC on October 3, 2022. On top of the leadership changes, she joined the non-profit organization in the middle of a restructuring that doubled its size. She now manages a staff of 35 and growing, with UWNC serving as the umbrella organization for 48 local United Ways across the state.
She has been in the trenches before, pulling herself up, growing into four key leadership roles, including her previous position as Chief of Staff at United Way of Forsyth County, which supports more than 60 local programs and raises over $14 million annually. Prior to her role in Forsyth County, she spent five years as the President and CEO at United Way of Davidson County. Under her leadership, the organization implemented a new strategic direction and invested over $1 million each year into defined community needs.
She also has earned three college degrees, including a Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Business Administration, and Master of Public Administration from Appalachian State University. (See news release of her hiring to learn more specifics).
Pruitt Fletcher uses her accomplishments and education to give back. She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, teaching non-profit management and grant strategies and preparation.
“I love connecting with the students, learning about them, and sharing my non-profit experience with them,” Pruitt Fletcher says. “I hope to impart knowledge of the subjects, a respect for the non-profit sector, and develop them as compassionate and inspiring leaders.”
Describing herself as “ambitious, hard-working, and resilient,” she says: “Nothing was handed to me. I have worked very hard to overcome the odds, also knowing I have also been blessed, and want to share these blessings with others.” She attributes her early life challenges to helping her better empathize with both the staff she manages and UWNC’s network of local United Ways and the communities they serve.
She was recently asked during an Inclusive Leadership Training about what she believes her “superpower” is. The answer that immediately came forward is her ability to remain calm and not get overwhelmed by challenges—a good skill to have for her position, with UWNC’s information and referral service such a huge part of managing disasters in the state.
As part of the State’s Emergency Response Team, when there is a disaster, the governor can activate 211 as the number to call for a non-medical emergency. For example, if there is a hurricane forecast and someone needs shelter, they can call 211 to get up-to-date information instead of calling 911, which is slated for emergencies.
“I don’t get rattled easily, which comes from being a problem solver,” Pruitt Fletcher says. “The only way to resolve stress is to figure out how to solve the problem. I am not afraid to take chances, make decisions, and I am not afraid of change. If I make a decision that turns out not to be a good idea, I will course-correct.”
She says she is grateful the UWNC Board of Directors trusts her in that capacity, saying they have given her the confidence to make decisions about the internal operations of the organization.
HER KNACK FOR UPLIFTING OTHERS WITH REASSURANCE
Pruitt Fletcher has an optimistic strength, and can often be heard saying, “It’ll be just fine.” (And she means it!)
Unbeknownst to most, Pruitt Fletcher has a nickname of “Sunshine” given to her by three different people—including her great aunt, and two previous co-workers—for that optimistic, cheery, and easily approachable personality.
“I do try to bring a happy, positive and bright outlook and not let the weight of the world diminish that,” she says.
At the same time, she is no pushover and can be tough, in an authentically empowering way. She is inspired by Dr. Brene’ Brown, who is known for her work on vulnerability.
“If I’m struggling with something, I need you to know that because that’s the only way we’re going to move forward, to get to the deep root issue, and to go below the surface,” she explains. “And the only way I know how to do that is to be honest, transparent, and vulnerable.”
People have respected her honesty.
“I’ve been able to connect with people by building trust and making sure folks know that I genuinely have both their interests and those of the organization at heart,” she says. “This allows me to say the things that people may not want to hear, address issues as they come up, and have tough conversations. I have learned that you cannot always make everyone happy, but you can make them feel valued and respected.”
Pruitt Fletcher grew up in Traphill, a rural community in the foothills of North Carolina. Pruitt Fletcher describes her hometown as having more cows and chickens than people, and says she went from kindergarten to 8th-grade with the same 28 people, give or take a few floaters over the years.
She fondly remembers a simple childhood where she had the same teachers who taught her dad and plenty of her other family members. There was no such thing as fast food, as the closest chain was 30 minutes away. Even the convenience store was 15 minutes from her childhood home. And that was never a quick trip because you were always going to see someone that you knew and spend time catching up with them.
Growing up, Pruitt Fletcher always thought life was good, not perfect, but she knew it could be a lot worse. Pruitt Fletcher’s parents separated when she was in high school.
While it was never really talked about, she knew her dad worked a lot to make ends meet for a family of four on a low-income. His hard work and dedication to ensure she and her older brother had everything they needed, kept her grounded and inspired her. Like many families, Pruitt Fletcher also witnessed people close to her struggle with mental health and addiction and has learned how to navigate the cycle of grief.
Despite early challenges, she knew the sense of people “being there” for her, which is a core trait she appreciates in others—and was the impetus to being called to a life of service offering the same support to others.
“Part of being raised in rural Traphill, N.C. was that I grew up surrounded by family,” she shares. “There was always a support system around. If I ever needed anything, I always had my dad, my great aunt and uncle, or other relatives nearby. I knew they would take care of what I needed, that someone had my back.”
At the same time, she learned to do a lot of things on her own, as she had to be in charge at a young age, a coping skill for surviving. She was the one that others relied on to get things done. That level of responsibility helped make her the strong leader she has become.
Yet, like many leaders, she is increasingly learning to discern when it is worth giving up control and empowering staff to step up and shine in their unique ways. She has discovered seeing others grow is the most rewarding part of being a leader.
As she expands in these new ways and continues to mentor others, she acknowledges the people who empowered her along the way:
“There have been so many folks in my life that took the time to mentor me, to set some guardrails, to let me make mistakes and provide direction and support so I could learn from those mistakes, which crafted me as a leader,” she says. “I am grateful for all the people who have guided me in this journey. I would not be here today if it were not for them.”
KNOW YOUR WHY
One pivotal learning moment for Pruitt Fletcher as younger leader came through a disconnect with a former boss.
Recalling a story of how she did not start off on “the right foot” with her supervisor due to some ineffective communications, she said one day he asked her: “Why are you here? Let me tell you why I am here. The point is we are both here for the same reason—the things that inspired you to come here, inspired me to come here too.”
That conversation taught Pruitt Fletcher early on the “art of compromise.” Two people can have different approaches and still find a middle ground by focusing on the end goal of what they want to achieve.
TWO IMPACTFUL CONTRIBUTIONS OF HER LIFE
One defining contribution was nudging a colleague to step into a CEO position at a local United Way. Although initially hesitant, the colleague took the leap and is now “a rockstar,” according to Pruitt Fletcher.
The second memory Pruitt Fletcher fondly recalls is of being a Big Sister, paired with a male Big Brother, to a 12-year-old boy through Big Brothers Big Sisters in Winston-Salem, where she also worked in various positions earlier in her career.
She repeatedly showed up for this boy, bringing lunches to the cafeteria even when he got in trouble and skipped school. Years later he was surprised to learn all the times she was there, even when he was not.
“I kept telling him, we’re going to be there for you no matter what you do,” she shares.
He later graduated from high school and has a successful, steady job today at age 22. They keep in contact sometimes. He has expressed his gratitude for Pruitt Fletcher and explained his life would have been very different, that he would have probably joined a gang and dropped out of high school, if not for her and the Big Brother with whom she was paired.
That “showing up for another” played full circle when she met the man who showed up for her.
GIFTS OF HER MARRIAGE
As she consistently makes it clear that she has not achieved success alone—that key people had her back, from her extended family to early supervisors and mentors—she lights up when she speaks of Staley, her husband of four years.
They met nine years ago, through a cousin and mutual friend. Successful as a Sales Operations Coordinator at Pepsi, Staley has turned his life upside down a few times to support Pruitt Fletcher. He has changed his career three times and moved three hours away from his tight-knit family, whom he dearly loves, to support her life of service and truly “be there” for her. In fact, he has made his wife a priority with his “steadfast commitment,” giving Pruitt Fletcher a new story.
In turn, she has expanded his world in many ways. “He is much more of a traditionalist than I am,” she shares. “I enjoy experiencing things for the first time, and traveling to places I have never been to before.”
She and Staley’s family also includes their dog, Jaxon, a Bernedoodle (Bernese Mountain Dog and Poodle), and a cat, Niko, both of whom Pruitt Fletcher adores. She also spends precious time with Maliyah, “Meme,” her godchild (age 14).
A wall hanging in her office, given to her by a former boss, says so much about her new life and role at UWNC: “Don’t Look Back-You’re Not Going That Way.”
(At home with Brittany, Staley, and their dog Jaxon)
A COMMITMENT TO EQUITY:
HER VALUES AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES THAT INFLUENCE HER WORK
Pruitt Fletcher reflects on her values and how they have influenced her as a leader. Before going to college Pruitt Fletcher describes her social circle as people that looked like her, loved like her, prayed like her, and were from the same socio-economic status.
During her time at Appalachian State, her social circle expanded, and she was exposed to what life was like for people who brought diversity into her life. Pruitt Fletcher says it opened her eyes in many ways, but the most powerful influence came from working at Big Brothers Big Sisters as a Case Manager.
When she speaks of this work, you can feel her energy shift as she recalls the children and parents she worked with during this time, seeing them living in poverty. “This experience truly shaped me as an individual and changed my world perspective,” Pruitt Fletcher notes. “Most of the families I engaged with were living in government housing, in high crime areas. I also had the experience of being a minority for the first time. I laugh now, thinking of myself as that naïve 20-something-year-old showing up with an open heart ready to ‘make their lives better.’ Never for a second thinking of how they would enrich my life and influence me.”
And although Pruitt Fletcher has cared deeply about JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) long before she married Staley, an African American, she continues to learn how being white comes with unspoken advantages and opportunities, which gives her another level of empathy.
Pruitt Fletcher recalls early in her relationship road trips spent with Staley’s family, where they took the same routes and stayed in the same places. She always thought this was strange and questioned Staley about it. He always related it back to tradition. But a few years ago, Pruitt Fletcher learned about The Green Book, a travel guide published during the segregation era, that identified businesses that would accept African American customers. This was a time in our history when Black individuals had to be conscious of the threat of racist violence. She realized that while this may not be the reason the family chooses to travel this way today, that it certainly would have impacted the way his family traveled during this earlier era.
Pruitt Fletcher said she stopped questioning the “traditions” and became awakened to her “white privilege,” as she never questioned her safety—not even when she worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters in some of the highest crime rate areas in the state.
These experiences have shaped Pruitt Fletcher and ingrained in her heart the desire to help shape a world that rights the wrongs of our past and lays the foundation for a future that embraces everyone, despite their differences.
“I know how much my life has been enriched by expanding my own social circle, and I want everyone to have that experience,” she shares. “I know that our world will be a better place when we create environments where differences are valued and embraced and not seen as threatening or offensive,” says Pruitt Fletcher.
Pruitt Fletcher sees herself leading with resiliency and strength, supported by both empathy and grace. “Everyone Is dealing with something, and it’s not my business to know what that is, but it is my job to show compassion and to give people grace,” she shares.
She also believes in focusing on those things she can control and making them work within those set parameters.
At the end of the day, to shift gears, she has learned to compartmentalize by creating “a file cabinet in her brain.” She was taught by a social worker earlier in her career to close the drawer in that cabinet and let what is left undone be there until tomorrow.
As she continues to acclimate as President and CEO of UWNC, Pruitt Fletcher humbly describes her intentions.
“I’m just Brittany, just a normal, everyday person, but I am aware that the position has influence,” she notes.
She hopes to use that influence:
- To have a presence, recognition, and relationships across the state of North Carolina and the United Way/211 networks to innovate practices that foster partnerships, support our work with research, provide stability for the network, and address disparities across North Carolina.
- To be known and respected throughout the state for a strong United Way network with an infrastructure built on collaboration and innovation with an ability to deliver results that make a difference to North Carolinians and leverage the power of a statewide system.
- To be a place that encourages exceptional performance and achievement through wholeheartedness, humility, mutual trust, collaboration, and teamwork and provides staff with the leadership, training, environment, and resources to excel.
Pruitt Fletcher is especially passionate about addressing the shifting philanthropic landscape, where needs have outweighed capacity to fulfill them. She plans to take the lead in informing folks of the huge impact that UWNC, with its network of local United Ways, can have as a trusted partner across the state.
Just last month, when a tornado hit Rocky Mount, United Way Tar River Region, reacted immediately and impactfully, raising $250,000 in just three days. This is just one example of how responsive local United Ways are to their communities’ needs when disaster hits.
Local United Ways also invest millions of dollars into responding to their communities’ ongoing challenges, like affordable housing and food insecurity. They are also focused on solving the root causes of these challenges, bringing marginalized voices to the table, and creating long-term solutions. Local United Ways are trusted partners and play a vital role in the social infrastructure of the communities they serve.
BUILDING A STRONG TEAM AT UWNC
Pruitt Fletcher is leaning into her ability to be resilient and is shaping a strong new leadership team to carry out the mission of UWNC and the increasing demands for its services.
One way she personally thrives and helps her staff grow is by being a continuous learner: “Do not be afraid to take risks or make mistakes. No one is perfect, and life is about learning—it is how we grow as individuals and, ultimately, as a society,” she advises.
She loves quoting Coach Jerry Moore (the head football coach at Appalachian State University, 1989-2012). After a rare loss, he would always say, “It was not a complete loss if we learned something. We will take those lessons and not make the same mistakes next week.”
UWNC understands those it serves have met challenges, made mistakes, and are also learners.
“To be able to provide them with the resource referrals to rebuild their lives is such a meaningful purpose,” Pruitt Fletcher says. “Leading the state association also means that I get to support the incredible leaders of local United Ways throughout North Carolina. It is an honor to work alongside them and for an organization that impacts so many lives in our state.”
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