United Way Campaigns Are Hurt By Layoffs

October 15, 2009       Michele Donohue      

United Way of Westmoreland County in Greensburg, Pa., posted a 40.8-percent increase from 2007 to 2008 for total contributions. President Nancy Kukovich said the positive change began in 2002 when board and staff reevaluated the organization’s “number one customer” — the donors.

The organization was one of the big winners in a United Way (UW) system that saw an 11.3 percent decrease in revenue for 2008 to $3.87 billion. Overall public support for UW declined 5 percent, from $4,236,464,794 in 2007 to $4,023,362,895 in 2008.

Both increases and decreases reached double-digits for some in the United Way system for contributions from private sources, including in-kind donations but excluding government grants. And each had a story behind the numbers.

Kukovich explained that while the organization was talking to member agencies almost every other week, the United Way of Westmoreland only solicited donors once in the fall and thanked them in the spring. The organization decided to view the people actually writing the checks as its top priority, rather than member agencies.

Kukovich said major changes included asking what donors wanted in their relationship with the organization. “We decided that we were going to talk to everybody we could,” she said. Donors wanted to know more about the critical issues of the community and exactly what impact their donors could have on those problems. “We now have every agency with outcomes and we could produce data, by ZIP code, of how many clients are being served and how much money is coming in from that area,” she said.

“We invested in this impact model and now we can tell donors exactly what is happening with their money and we can tell foundations that we are really focusing on making sure every child is ready to enter school and helping seniors stay at home,” said Kukovich. According to the latest figures released by UW, Salem, Ore., posted the largest percentage increase of 42.2 percent and Erie, Pa., posted the largest percentage decrease of -67.5 percent for local total revenues.

United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, Salem, Ore., increased more than 42 percent from 2007, going from $1,567,162 in 2007 to $2,228,278 in 2008. After Salem, Ore., the next largest jump was Greensburg, Pa., 40.8 percent; Casper, Wyo., 28.7 percent; Green Bay, Wis., 27.2 percent; and, Baytown, Texas, 27.1 percent.

Following United Way of Erie County in percentage decreases were Hamilton, Ohio, -46.1 percent; Hattiesburg, Miss., 44.1 percent; Mesa, Ariz., -38.6 percent; and, Fort Smith, Ark., -37.5 percent.

Kimberly Mounts, communications director at United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, said the organization took a sharper focus on an impact model more than two years ago and encouraged companies that participate in workplace giving programs to “partner in making a difference in the issues” instead of just raising money.

Mounts said the organization worked closely with most of the companies to break down individual goals, such as increasing donations from each employee by $2 a month or getting one more employee to donate.

“We really worked hand-in-hand with the campaign coordinators at the companies to understand their individual workplace campaign. That really empowered them to focus on how they as a team could do better and then contribute overall,” said Mounts. “And that’s really a part of the message — how individuals and each company could make a difference.”

She said that focusing on a company’s personal goals refined each workplace campaign for its individual environment, which spurned results. One workplace giving campaign increased 70 percent this year, said Mounts.

Mounts also said major donors and the community-based support of the three unique counties involved in Mid-Willamette Valley, the Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties, greatly contributed to the organization’s success this year.

Ben Landers, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Knoxville, said employee workplace giving programs have been the backbone of organization’s donations for the last 60 years. With unemployment rates hitting more than 8 percent in Knox County, Tenn., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are just fewer people in the workplace to receive pledge cards. Despite that, the organization’s revenue increased 1.4 percent to $14.26 million in 2008.

They need every penny of the increase because Knoxville’s referral and information line, 211, has received more inquiries in every need category, such as requests for food and mortgage assistance.

Landers said even with increased need, the organization decided to reduce its campaign goal for the first time in nearly 56 years, from $12.8 million last year to $11.8 million this year. “We are optimistic that we can make it and surely would like to sail over that goal, but the reality is that it is very likely to be down here,” he said. Landers said that no company has declined to participate in the employee pledge program.

The United Way of Greater Knoxville has also decided to learn about and test some fundraising techniques for the first time. The organization raised more than $254,000 in its first telethon in September and is now hosting its first online auction.

“We are doing everything we know how to do to reach out to those of us who are still employed and able to make a contribution and ask them to help us this year,” said Landers.

“If you had told me I would be doing a telethon and several live TV shows and an online auction, I would not have believed it two years ago. But we’re doing it now,” he explained.

United Way of Erie County in Erie, Pa., which had 2007 total contributions of $16,154,887, raised only $5,254,332 during 2008. But CEO Bill Jackson, of United Way of Erie County, explained that a one-time anonymous gift of nearly $11 million to the organization’s endowment fund in 2007 was behind the large percentage discrepancy. The gift was a part of a $100-million anonymous gift to Erie County nonprofits in 2007.

Jackson said that without counting the anonymous gift, the organization’s total contributions have stayed in the $5-million range for the past few years, even with the flailing economy.

He credits the national Live United movement message for focusing the organization’s effort. “It’s what we’ve been doing all along but we finally figured out how to put it in a few, concise words for people to latch on to and say, ÔNow I get what United Way does,'” said Jackson.

He also explained that Erie County donors have maintained their commitment to the organization, which serves more than 100,000 people in the area through funded programs, even in the toughest times. “They rally around. And they see that United Way is the best bang for their buck, in my opinion. When you have less money to give to charity, you want to make sure that you’re giving it to those places that help the most people and do the most good,” said Jackson.

United Way of Genesee County in Flint, Mich., saw a decrease of 9.6 percent, from $7,300,516 in 2007 to $6,597,690 in 2008.

Ron Butler, executive director of United Way of Genesee County, said the county had more than 35,000 General Motors jobs in 2000, which has now declined to less than 5,000. “The automotive workers, for decades, were the heart and soul of our campaign,” he said. Butler said that at the peak of General Motors’ employment, automotive workers would account for nearly 80 percent of the United Way campaign dollars.

“Many of the automotive workers that are still employed have friends and relatives that were laid off, and that’s causing our need in the county to go up dramatically,” said Butler. United Way of Genesee County has gathered health and human service agencies and tried to eliminate duplication and still provide services. The organization created a “one-stop shop” for the homeless at a central location where the homeless can access more than 50 programs, such as laundry services, clothing needs, computer access and help in attaining personal identification records.

“We are creating new and unique ways to help meet peoples’ needs, and I think it speaks volumes that the community is coming together to do this in spite of the economic challenges. We aren’t just packing our bags and going away,” he said.

The leading United Way on the list for total contributions in 2008 was United Way of King County in Seattle, Wash., with $102,163,345, which was a 14.5-percent decrease from its $119,531,103 total contributions in 2007. United Way Resource Development results for 2008 represent the United Ways classified as Metro 1 through 4, which are United Ways raising more than $1 million. There are nearly 1,300 local United Ways in the U.S.

Overall, United Way total revenue, including investment and asset values, for 2008 was down 11.3 percent, from $4,369,574,482 in 2007 to $3,873,887,720 for 2008. Overall public support for United Way declined 5 percent, from $4,236,464,794 in 2007 to $4,023,362,895 in 2008.

United Way does not file a consolidated audit, so some financial breakdowns, such as temporarily restricted, unrestricted and permanently restricted, are not possible. United Way Director of Public Relations Sal Fabens explained that the total income figure is lower than the public support figure due to significant value losses in endowment funds and other investments. NPT

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