Reaching donors

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Faced with growing demand for services at its 100 member agencies, United Way of Central Carolinas stepped up efforts in its annual drive last fall to reach donors and spur additional giving.

The effort paid off: The drive raised just over $39.1 million, up 4.5 percent from the previous year and exceeding its goal of $38.75 million.

Keying the success of the drive, chaired by Paul Franz, executive vice president of operations for Carolinas HealthCare System, was strong support from corporations, volunteer leaders and member agencies, says Diane Wright, senior vice president for resource development.

To generate both first-time “leadership” gifts of $1,000 or more to United Way’s general “community care” fund, as well as increases by “Tocqueville” donors who gave at least $10,000 a year ago, for example, Duke Energy pledged $250,000 in matching funds.

While the exact number of gifts over $1,000 is not yet known, it is likely to exceed the more than 7,000 in 2003, when those gifts represented 32 percent of the drive, Wright says.

And in an effort chaired by Rich Osborne, group vice president for public and regulatory policy at Duke Energy, each of more than 700 donors gave $10,000 or more, contributing $8.5 million, up from 627 donors who contributed $7.8 million the previous year.

Those gifts represented 22 percent of the drive, up from 21 percent the previous year.

United Way is looking for a corporate supporter to provide a similar challenge match for the 2005 drive this fall, an effort launched in 2002 with a match from Bank of America, and continued in 2003 by Wachovia.

Also fueling the increase in larger gifts was an effort to target specific groups of donors, including women, African Americans, young leaders, physicians, lawyers and Jewish donors.

United Way also worked closely with companies that wanted to set up separate campaigns targeting employees for larger gifts in addition to their regular workplace campaigns.

Carolinas HealthCare, Wachovia and Bank of America all ran successful special campaigns for larger gifts, for example, while Belk ran a separate leadership campaign for the first time, generating over $330,000 overall, up from $225,000 a year earlier.

The number of “loaned executives” provided to the drive by employers grew to 23 from 18 the previous year, boosting United Way’s workforce and letting it “do much more in a shorter amount of time,” Wright says.

United Way, which gave some donors tours of its agencies, has hired a full-time marketing coordinator who will work year-round with employers and donors to help them understand its agencies’ impact.

That effort, which also will provide agency fairs and speakers who can visit employers, aims to help employers gear up for this fall’s drive, which will be chaired by Graham Denton, president of the North Carolina market for Bank of America.

United Way also plans to provide additional resources for the 60 employers that generate the biggest contributions and account for 70 percent of the overall drive.

A big challenge for this fall’s drive will be to begin early in the year to identify companies that have not taken part in past drives and visit with their top executives, says Franz.

While the just-ended drive targeted new business, he says, “we were not successful at bringing on new companies, except for Lowe’s,” which moved its headquarters to the Mooresville-Lake Norman area from North Wilkesboro and raised $300,000

Wright says another big challenge will be to increase the size of the average gift by donors contributing $10,000 or more from $13,000 to the national average of $19,000 for Tocqueville donors.

Chaired by Frank Harrison, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, that effort aims to identify incentives and other strategies to secure larger gifts.

Despite the success of last fall’s drive, demand for United Way dollars “exceeds our capacity by millions and millions of dollars,” says Ned Curran, president of The Bissell Companies and chair of the United Way committee that oversees allocations to agencies.

“The challenge the community has felt in the past few years has been to deal with crisis because we’ve got so many on the edge with immediate needs,” he says. “So it challenges us to fund programs that are more preventive in nature or of an advocacy nature.”

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