United Way shifts gears

Editor’s note: This is the last of five articles on local United Way fundraising strategies to cope with the economic slump.

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — To keep pace with changes in its market accelerated by the eroding economy, the United Way of Greater Greensboro is building ties with a new generation of donors and starting to target dollars for programs in sync with its priority goals.

“This is not just a fundraising issue,” says Neil Belenky, United Way president and chief professional officer. “We have to make sure that the programs and issues the United Way is addressing align themselves with the social issues that concern that generation.”

Stung by the economic downturn and by donations designated for non-member agencies that totaled 9 percent of its annual campaign, the United Way last year raised nearly $14.2 million – nearly $800,000 short of the total raised a year earlier.

While the United Way has not set its goal for this year’s campaign, which kicks off Sept. 19 and is chaired by UNCG Chancellor Pat Sullivan, raising money will be tough, Belenky says.

“The economy in Greensboro is in very difficult shape,” he says.

The deteriorating stock market, he says, has deepened the impact of the region’s shrinking manufacturing base, particularly textiles, and more recently the loss of higher-paying technology jobs. Changes in corporate ownership also have hurt long-term ties with executives and employees, he says.

In the face of job growth among professional and entrepreneurial firms that typically employ younger workers, Belenky says, the United Way is recruiting smaller firms and speeding its effort “to transform from a traditional workplace campaign to one where we have a relationship with every donor, whether they give through the workplace or some other means.”

Building those year-round relationships will involve email and the Web to communicate with donors and deliver information geared to their interests.

The United Way also has formed a 15-member task force, headed by Kristen Yntema, outreach coordinator at Moses Cone Health System, to recruit 50 emerging leaders, both as donors and to help set program priorities and distribute funds.

“That group is going to influence and shape and will have a dramatic impact on what kinds of issues and programs we’re involved in,” Belenky says. “Our priorities have been shifting to make sure we have newer and younger donors. Our fix is not a short-term fix.”

To continue growth in gifts of $1,000 or more, which generated nearly 37 percent of last year’s campaign, up from 17 percent in 1990, the United Way also is enlisting women and will launch an effort next year to recruit blacks.

A five-year-old women’s initiative, headed this year by community volunteer Sally Cone, generated 103 donors giving $10,000 or more in 2000 – more than any other local United Way, although Atlanta and Boston eclipsed Greensboro last year.

“Everybody is important to us,” Belenky says, “but we’ve decided we have to have a direct relationship with every donor who gives a certain amount of money.” 

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