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United Way hopeful

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By Todd Cohen

HIGH POINT, N.C. — Braving barbs from tough critics, top executives of High Point Regional Health System helped kick off its United Way workplace campaign three months ago by singing in a talent show modeled on TV’s “American Idol.”

Hospital President Jeff Miller, along with eight vice presidents and a handful of employees, performed at the event and weathered critiques by staffers impersonating the TV show’s three judges.

The hospital screened videos of the performances on a monitor outside the cafeteria for a week, and employees could vote if they contributed $1.

“We try to make it as creative as possible,” says Kristen Craver, the hospital’s special events coordinator and United Way campaign coordinator.

The event, which raised $485, helped jumpstart the campaign. Despite losing roughly 80 positions over the past year, the hospital raised $137,720, beating its goal, and last year’s total, by $720.

“To be able to achieve their goal in this environment, we were very, very pleased,” says Bobby Smith, United Way president.

With the economy still hurting, United Way is counting on workplace campaigns, along with volunteer “loaned executives” and larger gifts, to keep this year’s fundraising roughly even with last year’s total.

“Given this economy, we don’t have any reason to think that our agencies should be expecting a big increase,” Smith says. “We also would hope and expect they should not be preparing for any sort of major decline. We don’t expect the bottom to fall out.”

This year’s drive, which kicks off Sept. 16 with a luncheon at the Radisson and is chaired by David Black, senior vice president for Wachovia, got an early start in May and June with “pacesetter” campaigns at employers like the hospital that together generate roughly $1 in every $5 the drive raises.

United Way, which last year met its $4.3 million goal, has recruited more than 30 loaned executives to work on the drive, up from 20 last year.

Those volunteers, Smith says, will be key to generating more support in new and emerging markets, including the Piedmont Center in North High Point, home to firms with many employees living in Greensboro or Winston-Salem.

A dozen or so firms there, including biotech firms like Transtech Pharma and Merz Pharmaceuticals, each with roughly 100 employees, are running United Way campaigns for the first time.

And in an effort headed by Tommy Langley, managing director-investments for Wachovia Securities in High Point, United Way aims to increase the number of donors giving $10,000 or more.

United Way, which last year generated 55 gifts that size but needs to offset the expected loss of some gifts as a result of death, illness or layoffs, already has landed 37 this year, including one from a new donor.

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