Raising the bar

By Todd Cohen

With the economy on the mend but people still hurting from the recent slump, United Way of Central Carolinas aims to raise more money in its annual drive this year to meet growing demand for health and human services.

In Mecklenburg County, for example, 5,000 people are homeless, the average homeless person is 9 years old, and 80 percent of senior citizens must choose between paying rent, buying food or purchasing medicine, says Diane Wright, senior vice president for resource development.

“The needs are still huge,” she says, “outpacing what we can raise every year.”

The goal for the drive, which kicks off Aug. 27 with a day of volunteering, will be $38.75 million, up 3.6 percent from the total raised last year.

“The community need has definitely grown from last year, and therefore our campaign goal will definitely grow from last year,” says Paul Franz, campaign chair and executive vice president of operations for Carolinas HealthCare System.

Early “pacesetter” workplace campaigns, which account for $1 of every $5 the drive raises, began in July and are on track to equal what they generated last year, when the overall campaign beat its goal by $11,000 and raised $700,000 more than in 2002, Wright says.

Two big focuses of the drive will be on United Way’s general “community care fund” and on gifts of $1,000 or more.

The community care fund, which receives undesignated gifts that United Way can use to address priority needs it identifies, last year received $29.2 million and has grown by $1 million each of the past three years.

To generate an increase in gifts of $1,000 or more, which last year accounted for 53 percent of total dollars raised, up from 49.2 percent a year earlier, United Way this year is targeting specific groups of donors, including women, African Americans, young leaders ages 25 to 39, and physicians and lawyers.

Like Wachovia last year and Bank of America in 2002, Duke Energy Corp. this year is challenging donors to make larger gifts.

Duke Energy has pledged $250,000, and will make contributions to the community care fund equal both to first-time gifts of $1,000 or more, and to increases by donors who gave at least $1,000 last year.

For donors who agree to increase their giving to $10,000 over three years, Duke will contribute an amount equal to the difference between $10,000 and the total the donors give this year.

United Way also aims to increase awareness about the impact of health and human services programs it supports.

“People don’t see the pockets of poverty and pockets of need scattered throughout our community,” Wright says.

Working with employers and their employees, she says, United Way is sponsoring “community impact tours” that will “take them to areas they might not normally see, and talk about needs and the impact their dollars have.”

Fueled by contributions from donors, United Way will distribute $30.6 million in 2004-05 to more than 220 programs at 100 member agencies, Wright says.

“Regardless of how much you give,” she says, “your gift changes people lives.”

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