United Way fights erosion

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles on local United Way fundraising strategies to cope with the economic slump.

By Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – After raising $26.1 million last year but seeing donors earmark $15 million of it to non-member agencies, the Triangle United Way has limited the goal for its annual drive this year to $13 million for its general fund.

While CEO Craig Chancellor expects overall contributions this year to exceed $26.1 million, including gifts to agencies outside the United Way, the new focus on the general “community care fund” aims to reverse eroding support for the region’s priority needs that the fund is designed to address.

Donors last year gave only $10.7 million to the community care fund, down from $14.2 million in 2000, while they earmarked $2 million more than they did in 2000 for charities outside the 85 United Way agencies.

“I think we did not do a good job of talking about the community care fund and the value of the undesignated gift,” says Chancellor.

To boost support for United Way priorities, Chancellor aims to better promote the charity’s community role and impact, strengthen ties with donors and plug into technology.

In addition to the challenge posed by donors designating gifts to agencies outside the United Way, hurdles for this year’s drive include the sour economy and the move to drop the Occoneechee Council of the Boy Scouts as a member agency because of its ban against gay members. Chancellor expects a lot of donors to give to the Scouts.

The heart of the drive, which kicked off Sept. 4, is a corps of volunteers who visit corporate leaders and employee groups, and Chancellor wants them to emphasize the role the United Way’s general fund plays in addressing the priorities of serving families, children and the elderly, meeting basic needs and improving access to health care.

This year’s campaign is headed by Joan and Dennis Gillings, chairman of Quintiles Transnational in Research Triangle Park.

The United Way also needs to keep courting bigger donors. Gifts of $1,000 to $9,999 grew to $5.8 million last year from $3.6 million in 1997, while gifts of $10,000 and more grew to $1.2 million from $575,000.

Chancellor plans to use email and the Web to identify individual donors’ interests and deliver customized content to them – an effort to be headed by Cecil Wright, the United Way’s new vice president for information services and former senior manager of Intranet strategy for Nortel Networks.

And 15 to 20 employers this year are expected to run their workplace campaigns online, up from five employers last year, when the United Way launched its eWay electronic pledging system.

A community-wide conference Sept. 9, hosted by UNC President Molly Broad, aims to boost awareness about the United Way – and pave the way for an initiative next year to involve more women in philanthropy.

And a task force headed by Scott Gardner, Triangle district manager for Duke Power, is studying the impact of letting donors support agencies outside the United Way.

While the study won’t likely prompt a “sea change” in overall strategy, “it will help us refine the way we do things in the way of marketing and campaign,” Chancellor says.

“The overall philosophy this year is going to be strengthening the community care fund,” he says, “and that means trying to increase the number of undesignated dollars coming into the campaign.”

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