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United Way reaches out

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By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — With the economy still stumbling, the United Way of Forsyth County is revving up to keep up.

Bracing for the impact on its annual fall drive of job losses at big employers, United Way has courted 100 top CEOs, scheduled breakfasts with professionals and individuals who can make big gifts, and planned a special effort to recruit small businesses and entrepreneurial firms for the drive.

It also is developing a planned-giving strategy and creating its own foundation.

And it wants to inject some fun into the drive, including a Sept. 4 kickoff in downtown Winston-Salem hat will feature an outdoor ping-pong tournament.

Still, says CEO Ron Drago, times are tough, creating big challenges for the drive, chaired by Steve Lineberger, president and CEO of Sara Lee Underwear.

“Based both on what we know about the economy and job losses that already have occurred in the community, and advice we’re receiving from CEO calls, it’s going to be hard to even cover what we raised last year,” Drago says. “It will be a challenge even to set a goal at the same level as last year.”

United Way last year set a goal of $17.3 million, the total it raised in 2001, but fell short by $300,000.

This year, with recent big job losses at Wachovia and possible losses at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and with Forsyth’s jobless rate climbing to 6.7 percent, United Way aims to keep up its past successes while reaching out to new donors.

Generating gifts of $1,000 or more, which accounted for $4 of every $10 raised last year, will be a big focus on this year’s drive.

Ed Welch, president of I.L. Long Construction Co., for example, is hosting three breakfasts for professionals and individuals to encourage them to give $10,000 or more.

United Way also is looking for a new staffer to focus fulltime on broadening support from small business and gear the drive to the needs of entrepreneurial enterprises, including the use of electronic communications and pledging.

Beyond the annual drive, United Way is creating a foundation at the Winston-Salem Foundation and assembling an advisory committee to help develop planned gifts.

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