United Way looks ahead

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As it gears up for its annual fall drive to raise funds to address immediate needs, United Way of Central Carolinas also is thinking about the future.

Building on efforts launched over the past four years, United Way has hired a vice president of planned giving to cultivate endowment donors and promote gift planning.

“We’re trying to broaden the base and bring in new donors,” says Ed John, who joined United Way in June after eight years at United Way of America as vice president of planned giving and endowment.

During his tenure at United Way of America, planned giving at local United Ways grew to more than $100 million in each of the past two years from $32 million in 1995, while their endowment funds grew to $1.25 billion from $350 million.

Now, John aims to expand efforts launched and driven by volunteers and backed by Gloria Pace King, United Way president, and Jerry Haynie, former vice president for legacy giving.

Over the next 20 years, John wants to build an endowment of roughly $100 million to generate $5 million to $7 million a year in income.

He first will reach out to donors who are older or retired, and to those who have contributed to United Way the longest, asking them to think about remembering United Way in their wills and long-term estate planning.

“I don’t think people think about us in those terms,” he says. “It’s not negative. It’s just that they’ve never been asked.”

John also wants to work more closely with donors who have made gifts of $1,000 or more, keeping them involved with United Way and helping them understand the long-term impact that planned giving can have.

In its annual drive last year, 7,173 donors gave $1,000 or more, and another 504 gave $10,000 or more.

Under John’s tenure, United Way of America targeted several dozen local United Ways, talking to local leaders, tracking local giving data and potential, and creating planned-giving plans and teams.

Charlotte’s United Way, which two years ago launched a $500,000-asset United Way Legacy Foundation at the Foundation for the Carolinas, generates roughly $1.25 million a year in new planned-giving commitments by living donors, and receives roughly $50,000 a year from previously-established gifts.

Private trusts totaling another $500,000 to $700,000 also earmark some or all of their income to United Way.

The Legacy Foundation’s board, headed by retired physician Peter McKay Jr., aims to promote planned giving, which John says can provide a cushion for tough economic times, generate more unrestricted dollars to address priority needs and attract new donors by underwriting administrative costs that can turn off some donors.

“In some ways, planned giving represents the highest form of philanthropy,” John says. “The dollars will be helping people that we will never know, addressing problems we can’t even imagine today.”

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