By Marion P. Blackburn
GREENVILLE, N.C. — United Ways in Eastern North Carolina believe they are stronger together.
This fall, eight eastern agencies are using a similar appearance and message to raise funds for community programs.
Collaborations also are in the works on board training and on addressing urgent needs.
“Together we do what matters” is as true in Greenville as in Kinston, says Marilyn L. Williams, executive director of United Way of Pitt County.
The shared theme, which appears on billboards, brochures and posters, and on radio and TV, is a first step toward more cooperation east of I-95, Williams says.
“We thought we could come up with a joint approach to stretch our resources without confusing our agencies,” she says. “The first place to collaborate was with marketing and communication materials.”
The organizations looked for guidance from Triad-area United Ways, which worked together last year and have added more local United Ways this year.
A Triad-area marketing firm, CoyneBeahmShouse, developed common materials for the local United Ways.
The partnership was so successful that those materials became available to Eastern North Carolina, says Jill Cox, spokesperson for the United Way of North Carolina.
United Ways in Greenville, Wilson, Kinston, Goldsboro, New Bern, Rocky Mount, Washington and Jacksonville could choose from materials, including a Spanish-language brochure, and customize them for their local area.
“The initial goal was to find some tools they could use jointly,” Cox says. “But the most specific change is one you can’t see — a commitment to work together again next year. They’re seeing how they can benefit from shared resources and from the knowledge that others have.”
Another advantage is stronger media access, Williams says.
Most people tune to the same TV and radio stations, which are able to air one United Way message instead of several.
“When we share materials, they don’t have to juggle eight ads,” she says. “A common approach represents eight counties.”
Though it’s too early to measure the effects, Williams says cooperation has streamlined fundraising.
“The response from the TV stations to one public service announcement was positive,” she says. “We have a billboard this year and the poster has been very well received. I think it’s the right thing to do and it will pay off.”
United Way of Pitt County already has raised nearly $1.5 million toward its goal of just over $1.9 million.
Other changes are ahead.
East Carolina University in Greenville is working with the Eastern North Carolina United Ways to develop a nonprofit board-training program.
And United Way of Pitt County is working with ECU to determine and respond to the area’s most pressing needs.
This model of assessment may be used in other counties, Williams says.
These steps serve a larger goal of tackling problems more effectively in response to changes throughout the east, where the end of familiar safety nets has created new issues for communities, she says.
“Our eastern group is looking beyond marketing to other areas,” Williams says. “The ECU partnership is the right thing at the right time.”
United Way can help develop and finance these programs, Williams says.
“Community impact should be the foundation for the future,” she says. “Mobilizing communities creates lasting change in conditions, and that improves lives. We are looking at root causes and collaborations that extend beyond what United Ways are traditionally involved in.”