Steve Goldberg, former executive director of the CUNA Mutual Foundation

“I don’t expect to change too much. I might sleep a little later … I’ve never really been a morning person. I might eat a little less chicken than I do now, but it will always be a big part of my diet,” says Steve Goldberg.

The days are winding down for Goldberg, executive director of the CUNA Mutual Foundation, who on Dec. 31 will wrap up an incredible career of more than 48 years at the Madison credit union insurer. A highly visible and passionate community member, Goldberg is a regular at community and non-profit luncheons and dinners of which he estimates that 95 percent of the time chicken is served.

“The main reason, of course, is because it is one of the least-expensive options and non-profits need to save money,” Goldberg laughs, “but also, because, as I’ve said many times, chicken is the national bird of philanthropy. So you are honoring philanthropy when you eat chicken.”

If you don’t know Steve Goldberg by now, chances are you haven’t been spending too much time in the Madison community.

“I can’t think about the Monona Terrace or the Concourse [Hotel] or the Alliant Center without thinking about events and the people that are there. I love ‘eventing.’ I’ve turned it into a verb,” Goldberg tells Madison365 in an interview at CUNA Mutual on Madison’s west side. “More than anything else, for me, events are a chance to understand that particular organization or that cause or that issue. Events are where the people that are passionate about that issue are present.”

Steve Goldberg with Centro Hispano President Karen Menendez Coller and former Board President Gloria Reyes
Steve Goldberg with Centro Hispano President Karen Menendez Coller and former Board President Gloria Reyes

For almost a half a century, Goldberg has been working for the CUNA Mutual Group, which helps people from all walks of life and backgrounds plan, protect and invest for their future. The company was founded more than 80 years ago by credit union leaders who were looking for an insurance partner they could trust.

“In 48 and a half years at CUNA Mutual, I never thought of it as a job or as work. It was something I always loved doing from the very first days when I was traveling the country doing speeches as a high school student and college freshman,” Goldberg says, “to the last 14 years where I’ve been helping to invest corporate dollars and resources into a community that I love. It just hasn’t felt like a job.

“I’m a lifelong Madisonian. I love this community. CUNA Mutual has been in Madison since its beginning in 1935. CUNA Mutual loves this community,” Goldberg adds. “We’ve remained true to that commitment and that sense of loyal to the community for all of these years and I think it shows in our philanthropy. We have really grown over the years. When I started in 1968, we had about 250 employees. Now we have about 1,800 employees in Madison.”

Steve Goldberg keynoting the CUNA Mutual’s National Policy Owner’s Conference in May of 1968 as a high school senior
Steve Goldberg keynoting the CUNA Mutual’s National Policy Owner’s Conference in May of 1968 as a high school senior

Goldberg was a fresh-faced Monona Grove High School senior when he first keynoted CUNA Mutual’s National Policy Owner’s Conference in May of 1968. He did such a fantastic job that he would soon become a regular speaker for CUNA Mutual throughout the country. “I’d fly to Pittsburgh or Miami or Dallas or Seattle or Denver and I’d be met at the airport by credit union dignitaries from that area and they would drive me to this restaurant or hotel where 500 people had paid money to hear me speak,” Goldberg remembers. “It was intoxicating. CUNA Mutual paid me 50 dollars a speech plus expenses and I would meet people were just wonderful pioneers in the credit union movement.”

In the four years that he was in college doing speeches for CUNA Mutual and focusing on helping credit unions address the importance of attracting younger members, he visited every state except Alaska.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he had many different options but he really enjoyed his experience with CUNA and was soon hired full-time to develop the company’s youth marketing program. He later created and ran CUNA Mutual Group’s nationwide senior marketing program, National Association for Retired Credit Union People. He also led the company’s financial planning, customer quality and small credit union development areas during his career.

In 2003, Goldberg became executive director of the CUNA Mutual Foundation where he and the CUNA Mutual Group’s Employee Philanthropy Team have spearheaded numerous programs that have made a tremendous impact on local non-profits and the overall Madison community. Under Goldberg’s leadership, CUNA Mutual Foundation has established a well-deserved community relations reputation as one of the top corporate donors in Dane County and a leader in major fundraising campaigns, notably United Way, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen, and March of Dimes.

“We know that if we take care of the community that’s it’s the right thing to do and it makes a difference in local quality of life and that makes a difference for us as a company, especially as a long-term major employer,” Goldberg says.

Steve Goldberg presents an $100,000 capacity-building grant to the Urban League at Urban Cabaret.
Steve Goldberg presents an $100,000 capacity-building grant to the Urban League at Urban Cabaret.

Goldberg has made it a priority to embrace the growing diversity of Madison. Through his work with the CUNA Mutual Foundation, Goldberg is at meetings where he is sometimes the only white guy in the room.

“The community is just coming to grips with the fact that we have two Madisons or three Madisons. It’s a great place to live if you’re white, but not as much if you’re not. When I see people of color in this community, I see a lot of courage and it takes a lot of courage for them to do what they’re trying to do for themselves and their families and I admire that,” Goldberg says. “I see them as part of my extended family and I want to be there for them and see what I can do to help them along their journey.

“There are some non-profits where they are doing such great work with their kids or their clients or their families or their returning inmates – marginalized people who need a voice. So that non-profit, to a large extent, is their voice,” he adds. “But not enough people in our larger community have heard that voice or have paid attention to that voice. I find myself wishing that the situation could be improved and that these underrepresented and marginalized people in our community could have a bigger voice.”

Diversity and inclusion have also been a strong focus for CUNA Mutual overall. “I think that desire is very genuine here at CUNA Mutual. We serve a very diverse population here,” Goldberg says. “We serve credit unions all over the country and in various parts of the world. This company and the people in it have always tried to do the right thing.

“I want CUNA Mutual to make informed decisions about the best ways to spend its philanthropic resources – the dollars, the people, and the skills that we bring to the table,” he adds. “And we’ve got a very generous employee population here. They really believe in giving back. But they can’t all be plugged into the community here. My full-time job 24/7 is to do that and sometimes I’m doing that on behalf of the company.”

Goldberg oversees the disbursement of about $1 million of charitable giving a year. People always love to see a giant check, but not everybody realizes how painstaking the decisions can be to determine how foundation money is used. There are literally hundreds of great causes in Madison.

“It always looks glamorous and glitzy to give away the check. It’s a good feeling but getting to that point of deciding that we’re going to give Centro Hispano a $100,00 capacity grant or we’re going to give the Urban League a $60,000 grant for their employment program or we’re going to give $1.2 million to the school district so they can reduce the achievement gap … that decision is not easy,” Goldberg says. “All of that comes from being plugged into what those organizations are doing and that’s why I go to so many events. I attend between 3 and 11 events every week and it’s not just because I love chicken, it’s because I want to see what’s happening in the community and what various organizations are doing. I want to understand how the community is dealing with homelessness or hunger or poverty or racial disparities or achievement gaps or early learning.”

Steve Goldberg presents a check to the Madison Metropolitan School District for $1.2 million on behalf of CUNA Mutual.
Steve Goldberg presents a check to the Madison Metropolitan School District for $1.2 million on behalf of CUNA Mutual.

Goldberg reached out to MMSD Superintendent Jen Cheatham when she first came to Madison and CUNA Mutual Foundation decided to support the Forward Madison initiative with a $1.2 million grant. “The thought behind Forward Madison is that one of the best ways to support our students is to support our teachers,” he says. “Give them the tools and the insight they need to be even more effective in helping the most challenged students succeed.”

Retirement means that Goldberg won’t be carrying around oversized checks with him anymore, but he will still have plenty of influence in the community and he will continue to work with non-profits behind the scenes helping them plan their events and making presentations and emceeing when need be. He’ll still be active with the Wisconsin Philanthropy Network – a network of funders and donors throughout the state – of which he is on their board of directors. He’ll remain very active with United Way. “I’ll still be in touch with a variety of community leaders on various issues,” Goldberg says. “I’m interested in finding out how I can add the most value to this community.”

In fact, he’s not really planning on slowing down too much at all. “I will still be at those events. Wherever there’s a microphone, a chicken dinner, and an audience, I will be there,” Goldberg laughs. “I will still be emceeing events. I will still be talking to people about their strategies and answering questions and making phone calls. I’ll still be trying to help people connect the dots.

Steve Goldberg and Candace Stohs-Krause accept the "Humanitarian Award" on behalf of CUNA Mutual Group from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Steve Goldberg and Candace Stohs-Krause accept the “Humanitarian Award” on behalf of CUNA Mutual Group from the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

“I’m retiring from a wonderful company, but I’m not retiring from the community,” he adds. “I’m gonna stay plugged in.”

Goldberg says that he will make time to read. “There are a few books I bought years ago and I put them on my bookshelf and I promised that I will start reading them when I retire. So I’m looking forward to that,” he says.

How does Goldberg hope that the Madison community remembers him?

“As I ease into retirement and as I am receiving messages from people in the community, I’m beginning to realize that in a small way I’m making a difference and having a positive impact on local quality of life,” Goldberg says. “It makes me feel really good. So, I would like my career and my work in philanthropy to leave that impression: Here’s somebody who’s been working to make a difference, somebody who cares, somebody who is energetic and playful, and somebody who takes his work seriously but doesn’t take himself seriously.

“I like to help people understand and enjoy why they’re here. That’s why I like to make people smile,” Goldberg adds. “I want to make them smile about the mission, smile about the challenge, smile about the importance of what they’re doing. I want them to commit to it and to enjoy it. And to do it well. There’s a lot of people depending on us to do these things well. To do them in the first place, but also to do them well.”

A Thank-You Retirement Reception for Steve Goldberg will be held Thursday, Dec. 15, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at El Pastor Mexican Restaurant, 2010 S. Park St. The event will be hosted by Oscar Mireles, Scott Haumersen, Kaleem Caire, and Michael Johnson who invite you to come and celebrate Steve Goldberg’s decades of service to the Madison community.