Kianna Price Marshall headshot

Storytelling that drives community transformation

February 15, 2024

During the 15 years she worked as a broadcast journalist in Roanoke, Virginia, Kianna Price Marshall, ’00, shared stories of people and nonprofits on radio and television. She interviewed luminaries Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Martin Luther King III, and John Legend, among others. Today, as vice president of advancement for the United Way of Roanoke Valley, she uses her narrative skills to shine a light on some of the most vulnerable residents of western Virginia. 

“My desire to tell stories of the voiceless has always been part of my heart,” she said. “For instance, I tell feel-good stories about the strides the Roanoke Valley has made in early childhood education, with the help of the United Way. I also tell stories about where we need more help.”

Marshall joined the nonprofit in August 2022 as vice president of marketing and communications. A year later, she received a promotion to vice president of advancement. With her advancement staff of two, she is working on raising $3 million this year in celebration of the organization’s 100-year anniversary.

She knows well the implications of successful fundraising for real people – especially asset-limited, incomed-constrained employees, known by the acronym ALICE by the United Way and other nonprofits.

“ALICE works day in and day out, but lives only one emergency away from disaster,” Marshall said. “Think about the game Jenga, where a tower of blocks gets higher and higher. If the wrong block gets pulled, the tower comes tumbling down.

“That’s how it is for ALICE. The brakes go out on the car, and as a result, they struggle finding transportation to work, eventually losing their job. Without a paycheck, they can’t pay their rent or buy groceries and medicine. This is where the United Way comes in. We collaborate, support, and connect with organizations that help ALICE get back on their feet and well on their way to self-sufficiency.”

Specifically, United Way collaborates with partner organizations, including public schools and other nonprofits that provide critical social services, such as early childcare, before- and after-school programming, health care access, and resources to support family financial stability.

Last year, Marshall said her United Way gave $4.15 million to community collaborations and impact programs. It led quality-improvement training for 2,314 childcare educators that ultimately benefited 7,680 children. And it helped community health workers connect 4,592 adults to resources to remove health and self-sufficiency barriers.

Citing another example of its impact, she said the United Way of Roanoke Valley set a goal in 2018 to help 10,000 families reach self-sufficiency by 2030. As of May 2023, it had already helped 4,400 families achieve financial security.

Her University of Richmond majors in leadership studies and rhetoric and communications have benefitted her in her career in broadcast journalism and nonprofit leadership. So too have her strong community connections, the lifelong Roanoke resident said.

“One of my coworkers tells me, ‘You know everyone,’” Marshall joked. But joking aside, she said she treasures the sense of community she finds in the Roanoke Valley.

“United Way of Roanoke Valley wins when it’s seen as the community’s organization.”