By Todd Cohen
United Way officials in North Carolina are quietly upbeat about early returns from their annual drives, with growth in big gifts tempering modest goals set in the face of the sputtering economy.
“The early results have been fairly positive,” says Jim Morrison, president of the United Way of North Carolina.
Still, raising money in the economic slump has been tough.
“Our problem is numbers — lost employment and companies,” says Neil Belenky, president of the United Way of Greater Greensboro. “Where people are working, campaigns are going very well.”
Workplace drives in Greensboro for First Citizens Bank & Trust, for example, generated $25,000, up from $16,000 a year ago, while Lorillard Tobacco Co. had 37 new donors giving $1,000 or more, and Moses Cone Health System had 26, says Cindy Westmoreland, assistant vice president for resource development.
The Greensboro United Way set a $13.6 million goal this year, down from $14.1 million it raised last year, while the United Way of Greater High Point set a $4.3 million goal, down from $4.7 million.
“That’s a very realistic acknowledgement of the economy,” says Tony Cardoni, board chairman for the High Point United Way. “It’s going to be a tough ride.”
The High Point United Way has raised $1.56 million since its Sept. 18 kickoff, up from $1.52 million it raised by this time last year, says Patty Meade, director of resource development.
Results are weakest at manufacturing firms and strongest at financial firms, she says.
At the United Way of Forsyth County, which set a $17.3 million goal, equal to what it raised last year, giving at big employers reporting results has grown, says Ron Drago, president and CEO.
At BB&T, for example, employee giving grew 15 percent to $410,000, with 208 employees giving $1,000 or more, up 47.5 percent from last year.
“The community has a good understanding of the plight of our agencies,” Drago says. “They’re being asked to do more than ever and they’re suffering lots of cuts, and so their need truly is greater than ever.”
Larger gifts also have boosted early results at the United Way of Central Carolinas in Charlotte, which had raised $20.7 million by Oct. 10, or more than half its $39 million goal, says Diane Wright, vice president for marketing.
The number of donors giving $1,000 or more, for example, grew to 25 this year at Compass Group, up from one last year, and grew 46 percent at Family Dollar Stores, which post a 20 percent increase in giving overall.
Overall, the state’s 66 local United Ways set goals this year totaling $143.65 million, compared to $152.5 million they raised last year.
Last year’s total, however, included $15.4 million raised by the Triangle United Way that donors designated to other United Ways and to agencies outside the United Way.
After raising a total of $26 million last year, the Triangle United Way this year set a goal of $13 million limited it to its general community care fund.
Employees at Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting Co. Inc., which this year had a $110,500 goal, contributed more than $104,000 to the campaign, including $63,000 for the community care fund.
The company, matching half of all donations of $50 and up, contributed nearly $52,000 more in matching funds, bringing the total donation to nearly $156,000.
Contributions to the community care fund grew 25 percent at Golden Corral, which posted a 13 percent increase overall.