Written by Noah Logan
Photos by Steve Babin
By the time Daniel Kasambira was named President and CEO at United Way of Madison County, he had accumulated 20 years of experience in virtually every facet of running a nonprofit. He joined United Way of Madison County in 2022 after stints as executive director of the Hogan Family YMCA and Chief Development and Community Engagement Officer for the Heart of the Valley YMCA. In fact, Daniel knew this line of work was his calling even before finishing his undergraduate degree at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y.
He pointed to his time as a three-year starter for Roberts Wesleyan’s basketball program when asked when knew exactly what he wanted his life to entail. “I knew that I wanted to use my experiences from sports to lead organizations, in which you can utilize similar concepts like teamwork, the importance of being coachable, and the importance of having a game plan,” he recalled. As the team’s point guard, being able to facilitate and put others in positions to succeed were things he would continue to do when he started his professional career.
After working at various YMCA programs in New Jersey and Chicago, Daniel and his family made their way to the South when they moved to Birmingham in 2003. Shortly after the move, Daniel received a piece of advice that would not only help him through his own personal struggles but would also become important for his future career.
“Probably the best advice I received when I moved to Birmingham was from Judge Andre Sparks,” he explained. “He bought me lunch one day and said ‘you won’t be successful down south until you first develop relationships, then business will happen.’”
His unwavering commitment to forming relationships proved invaluable when he was laid off from his leadership position with OfficeMax distribution center after a company merger. Determined to stay in the South, Daniel started delivering pizza for Papa John’s when his search for a job wasn’t fruitful. When he did find employment in his profession again at United Way of Central Alabama, he kept delivering pizzas to supplement his income.
“From 8-4, I put on my shirt and tie and helped raise money for United Way. Then from 5-11, I was delivering pizzas along with shifts on Saturdays and Sundays. I remembered that advice though and made sure to maintain relationships no matter what.”
Eventually one of these valued relationships led to a phone call from Lucia Blankenship who served on the Board of Trustees at Alabama A&M. Kasambira was asked to interview to be the Director of the university’s Student Health and Wellness Center. The family relocated to Huntsville in 2010 and remains here 13 years later.
Daniel worked at Alabama A&M for nearly five years before leaving for the more familiar settings at the YMCA facilities. During his nearly seven-year tenure with the Hogan Family YMCA, it became the largest in the state of Alabama and served nearly 15,000 people in 2019 alone.
After receiving an invitation to a virtual first interview for President & CEO of United Way Madison County, he recalled, “There were 13 people on the screen who were set to ask me questions. I looked at the screen, and I realized I had a personal relationship with 11 of those 13 people. It was then I realized just how true that advice was.”
After an additional round of interviews and successfully obtaining his position, Daniel continued to heed the important counsel. After calling his wife with the good news, he stayed on the phone for the next few hours to call everyone who helped him along the way and thank them personally.
“I had a newfound understanding of the importance of how people personally and professionally help you be successful along your journey,” he explained.
“I’m in the seat here and it’s bigger than just a title, it’s important to make a difference in people’s lives and I don’t take that for granted. For those that know me, my business card has my cell phone number on it and I like to get cell phone numbers from people in return. One thing I started about six years ago, is going through the 1,600 plus contacts in my phone every Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. I take four to five hours during those days, and I send text messages to every person in my contact list. It’s important to be of value or add some inspiration for that particular day for that person.
I’ll continue to do that to remember that service and relationships are beyond instrumental. It’s an obligation. And I’m honored to be here where I am now.”
With his decades of experience in the nonprofit sector, Daniel has had a front row seat to how unfair life can be at times. While this constant reminder could potentially cause “burnout” of sorts, Daniel keeps his mind on the positive change he can make in his community. He also attributes his faith and his relationship with Christ as a foundational one that keeps him motivated.
“There are challenges here. And we’re seen as potential change-agents at United Way,” he proudly confirmed. “We’re seen as an organization that can be a part of the solution and help solve some of these issues and problems. That’s what keeps me going.”