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Tackling the downturn: Part 5 – Digital drive – Modest growth

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

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — With the economy continuing its retreat, the United Way of Forsyth County is counting on technology to boost its annual fundraising campaign this fall.

“We’re anticipating a very modest increase,” says Ron Drago, president and CEO of the United Way of Forsyth County. “We live and die with the economy.”

While the board has not yet set a goal, Drago expects the soft economy and sluggish stock market will hurt gifts of $1,000 or more that accounted for more than one-third of the nearly $17.3 million that the United Way raised last year.

So the United Way this year will sharpen its focus on small businesses, particularly high-tech firms – a growing sector, but one in which the organization has not built strong relationships, Drago says.

“That’s where the greatest opportunity is,” he says.

In time for the campaign, which begins Sept. 11 and will be chaired by Jim Thompson, vice president and dean of the School of Medicine at Wake Forest University, the United Way will roll out a revamped Web site.

The site will feature online pledging, an online newsletter, financial calculators to help donors plan gifts, and virtual tours of the United Way’s 35 member agencies,

The United Way also will encourage employers to feature United Way information and links to its site on their own “intranet” sites for employees – and to institute electronic pledging.

“That’s something we really need to develop through the workplace as a replacement for paper pledging,” Drago says.

Redesign of the Web site is being handled by Knowledge2Work, a Web firm formed and run by Wake Forest students.

In reaching out to donors, the United Way also will promote the new 211 information and referral phone line it will launch this fall with the United Ways in High Point and Greensboro.

The consolidated service, to be run by a new nonprofit, Piedmont Triad United Way Services, “demonstrates our ability to work together and collaborate in a more economical and effective business process,” Drago says.

The United Way also aims to sharpen its future funding priorities. While it lets donors contribute to individual agencies, the United Way encourages them to support its umbrella Community Care Fund, which received all but $2 million of the total raised in last year’s campaign.

Early next year, in partnership with other public, private and nonprofit groups, the United Way will conduct a comprehensive assessment of community needs. The results will help shape how the umbrella fund distributes money raised next year.

“We’re excited about bringing the community together in a more collaborative approach to better assess and more effectively impact vital human needs in our community,” Drago says.                        

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