Working to connect – Engaging people is goal

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gloria Pace King says she lies awake at night thinking about how to better brand the United Way of Central Carolinas and find new ways to get people involved in giving and volunteering.

“Part of my frustration is the United Way’s inability to differentiate itself from every other charitable organization,” says King, United Way president for more than six years.

Marketing the United Way in the face of rapid economic and technological change is a big priority as the organization begins its annual fall fundraising campaign.

The goal of the campaign, which kicks off August 21, is expected to be 7 percent to 10 percent greater than the nearly $32.2 million raised last year.

Over each of the past three years, the annual campaign has grown 20 percent, 10 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

During that same period, based on recommendations by McKinsey & Co., the United Way has worked to sharpen its funding focus and better target donors.

The United Way, for example, continues to fund existing programs of its 92 member agencies in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties and in South Iredell County and Mooresville. But it now also concentrates some funds on three new priority areas — early childhood, economic independence and the well-being of older adults.

This year, $2.6 million was earmarked for those priority areas, up from $2.2 million last year. Member agencies and other nonprofits can apply for funds.

The McKinsey study also prompted the United Way to spend two years training its member agencies to better measure and communicate the impact of their services.

Other new initiatives include recruiting bigger gifts and reaching out to women, minorities and non-traditional workers. And the United Way plans to make better use of technology, aggressively court high-tech companies and help donors make gifts through their estate planning.

Last year, for example, a new women’s leadership council raised nearly $2.2 million — 37 percent more than women gave a year earlier. The number of women making gifts grew by 30 percent to 1,458, while the number giving $10,000 or more increased to 27 from 13.

And black giving has tripled over the past two years, with eight individuals each contributing $10,000 or more last year.

Among all donors, gifts of $1,000 to $9,999 have almost doubled to nearly $8 million and account for one-fourth of total funds raised last year, while gifts of $10,000 or more have grown 263 percent to more than $5.1 million, accounting for 16 percent of funds raised last year.

Yet another new program, created last year, aims to generate gifts through wills, trusts, insurance policies and other estate-planning tools.

So far, 73 individuals and families have contributed $648,000 to an endowment fund, and nearly $1.6 million is expected from future gifts for which commitments have been made. The effort also has generated 30 other gifts whose values can’t yet be determined.

Technology also is getting greater United Way attention. A new campaign division this year aims to reach high-tech companies and workers who often work at home, online or on the road.

The United Way also plans to make better use of email and the Web to raise money and reach donors and volunteers.

Despite the surge in giving, however, the United Way has had some jolts, including big layoffs recently announced by First Union and Bank of America, and the company-wide decision by Philip Morris to create an employee community fund this year rather than holding a United Way campaign – a move that King says could cost the drive $250,000. (Philip Morris will make a corporate gift to the United Way, and employees will be able to ask that they contributions to the fund support United Way agencies.)

King worries that people still think of the United Way mainly as a charity that raises money in the workplace each fall. Fundraising clearly is important, she says, and the fall campaign is a great vehicle for marketing the organization.

“The annual campaign is our annual sale,” she says. “We’re going out and selling our products to the community.”

Yet as the Charlotte area grows, she says, the challenge for the United Way is “keeping the message in front of people about what the needs are, and capitalizing on the growth using technology and e-commerce.” 

To compete effectively, King says, the United Way needs to be more entrepreneurial – conducting market research, targeting market segments, selling aggressively, taking risks, teaming up with other organizations and establishing an unmistakable identity.

“Those are the kinds of things I think about at 3 a.m.,” she says.

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