United Way hurdle – Options for donors

By Todd Cohen

North Carolina United Ways are pitching in to help victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but officials also fear relief efforts could hurt annual drives that already had set modest goals in the face of the slumping economy.

“We are concerned that this not become a substitution for people’s ongoing support of the United Way,” says Ron Drago, president and CEO of United Way of Forsyth County in Winston-Salem. “It’s that ongoing support that allows us to be able to respond in the first place.”

United Way officials are urging donors to dig deeper for emergency donations while also backing annual workplace drives.

Based on goals set before Sept. 11, the state’s 65 United Ways expected this year to exceed by no more 1 percent to 2 percent the $147 million they raised last year, says Jim Morrison, president of the United Way of North Carolina.

“You’d have to be somewhat concerned,” he says. “We’re asking people to really give on top of their normal United Way support.”

United Ways in Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and the Triangle – which account for more than half the total raised by United Ways in the state — are using a variety of strategies to back the relief effort.

In Charlotte, for example, donors can give to a special fund for local relief agencies, or to New York’s Sept. 11 Fund.

“We feel that companies and individuals will continue to support the campaign as well as the national relief efforts,” says Diane Wright, vice president for marketing at the United Way of Central Carolinas, which has a campaign goal of $37.1 million, up from $36 million last year.

In Winston-Salem, the United Way is promoting the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Sept. 11 Fund.

Big employers also are stepping up. The Sara Lee Foundation, for example, has pledged to give $2 to the relief effort for every $1 donated by employees, says Peggy Carter, vice president for corporate affairs for Sara Lee’s apparel companies.

“We hope it will not affect the United Way campaign,” she says.

Drago, president of the United Way of Forsyth County, says he hopes donors supporting relief efforts also will contribute to the annual drive, which aims to raise $17.5 million, up from nearly $17.3 million raised last year.

The United Way of Greater Greensboro – with a goal of nearly $15.2 million, down from nearly $15.3 million last year — is giving donors envelopes for gifts to the Sept. 11 Fund, but won’t let donors designate the fund on campaign pledge cards.

“We are not setting it up as a payroll deduction because our message to people is that in a time of need, it’s time to step up,” says Neil Belenky, president and chief professional officer. “We all need to step up and do something more to support the disaster relief.”

Claudia Stowers, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater High Point, says she also is concerned about the $4.7 million annual campaign, up 1.2 percent from last year.

“We’ve been trying to communicate to people that supporting efforts to combat terrorism is important, but one way we do that is by building strong communities,” she says. “We’re just encouraging people to take care of people in their own back yard.”

The Triangle United Way — with a $26 million goal, down from nearly $26.2 million last year – issued a separate pledge card for the Sept. 11 Fund but is discouraging the use of payroll deduction for relief donations “because most people are going to want to give cash or checks,” says Bill Shelp-Peck, senior vice president for resource development.

“There is a concern, and there always is when a disaster occurs in the midst of your local community drive,” he says. “We’re reminding people that community issues are important as well.”

Winston-Salem fundraising consultant David Winslow says the relief effort could pinch United Way drives.

“Generous donors to the United Way are the same people writing checks to the national relief efforts as well,” he says. “There likely will be negative fallout for local agencies.”

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