Adapting to change

By Jennifer Whytock

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. – After beating the goal for its annual drive each of the past two years, United Way of Henderson County is guarded about this year’s drive in the face of plans to close a local Steelcase furniture manufacturing plant this fall.

To help offset that loss, United Way is focusing on individuals, families, retirees, gifts of $1,000 or more, and corporate matching gifts.

“The Steelcase furniture manufacturing plant had been a big part of our campaign for years, but it will close in October,” says Henry Johnson, executive director. “We have enough confidence with our campaign to keep the goal the same, but not if we get more plant closings.”

United Way raised over $1.58 million in 2003, exceeding its goal by $30,000, in part because of matching pledges and publicity for its 50th anniversary campaign, Johnson says.

Two companies, First Citizens Bank and Beverly Hanks and Associates, each gave $1 for every $3 raised in new “leadership” pledges of $1,000 or more.

Nearly $90,000 of new leadership pledges in 2003 raised an additional $27,000 in matching funds from the two companies, in addition to their corporate donations, that will go to an endowment.

For the 2004 drive, chaired by David Sink, president of Blue Ridge Community College, United Way has received a matching pledge from Mountain 1st, a new bank in Hendersonville.

United Way is focusing its fundraising more on individuals, families and retirees because fundraising from businesses is becoming a greater challenge, Johnson says.

While Henderson County has suffered few plant closings, he says, many companies are employing fewer people, reducing the number of potential United Way donors, he says.

Many employees also now pay for employee benefits out of their own pockets, he says, leaving them less disposable income to give to charity.

United Way also aims to encourage the growing population of retirees, including many who have moved to the county, to donate to United Way, he says.

Another recent goal has been increasing leadership gifts, which grew to $387,000 in 2003, or 24 percent of the total raised.

Four years ago, United Way stopped letting donors designate their gifts to specific agencies and instead asked them to give only to a common fund designed to keep money in the community, Johnson says.

“If you want to give to your church or university, give to them directly, not through us,” he tells potential donors. “Some think that saying this could upset donors who want to give to a specific cause, but it hasn’t happened here.”

United Way spending on local agencies has increased 35 percent in the past four years to over $1.25 million, and more small nonprofits are receiving aid.

“There are a lot of agencies that are small and don’t get attention,” he says. “If you had designated donations, the more well-known agencies would get a lot of people’s money.”

This year’s drive will kick off at a breakfast event August 25th at the community college, followed by an all-day volunteer project.

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