Tackling the downturn: Part 3 – Donor plug-in – Eye on $36M

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series on fundraising strategies at local United Ways in the face of the economic downturn.

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With the economy in eclipse, the United Way of Central Carolinas is working to rally new donors.

The goal for the annual drive that the United Way kicks off Aug. 24 is expected to exceed the $36 million raised last year – but fall short of the double-digit increases of the past five years.

“We’re going to try to increase our base of giving, try to reach out to people who don’t know about United Way or realize the importance of their gift,” says Diane Wright, vice president for marketing.

Recruiting donors will hinge on making the case that the United Way is much more than simply a fund drive held every fall, she says.

The charity, which funds 96 agencies and more than 200 programs in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties and in Mooresville and South Iredell County, aims to tell its story through a handful of new initiatives.

Those include a revamped Web site and new 211 resource-and-referral phone line, planned-giving program and ad campaign.

The Web site and 211 line are designed to help people find out about the United Way and the agencies and programs it supports, and get help for their health and human-service needs.

The Web site features an online version of the 211 phone line – also being piloted in Asheville, the Triad and the Triangle – plus volunteer and job listings, news, stories about people served by the United Way and online pledging through a link to the Web site of the United Way of North Carolina.

Online pledging also will be piloted in the workplace-giving campaign for employees of the United Way and a handful of local companies using United eWay, a Web-based software system developed by a partnership of 40 United Ways. Seventy United Ways will use the software this year to run drives at hundreds of companies.

The fall campaign also marks the first time that donors can earmark contributions for charities outside the United Way – a practice begun last year by Bank of America.

Culminating a “week of caring” with more than 2,000 volunteers performing community work, the fall drive kicks off at the Ray of Hope Center of St. Paul Baptist Church in the Belmont community in Northeast Charlotte.

To boost long-term support, the United Way also will encourage donors throughout the year to make planned gifts through wills and other estate-planning tools using a new United Way Legacy Foundation it has created at the Foundation for the Carolinas.

And in October, the United Way will launch a new branding campaign – developed for free by advertising and public relations firm Wray Ward Laseter — to promote its year-round community work.

“We have a very efficient fundraising campaign,” Wright says, “but what we do best is pull together people from throughout our community in order to identify and address our most pressing needs.”

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