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Triangle United Way mapping new course

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By Todd Cohen

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Triangle United Way is looking for a better way to do business.

Faced with sluggish giving in three of the four years since United Way made unrestricted giving the focus of its annual fund drive, its board of directors wants the organization to retool itself.

The board’s new goals, approved May 31, call for United Way to find a more effective way to raise and distribute money, enlist and foster volunteer leaders, and help donors and the community understand its work and impact, says Craig Chancellor, president and CEO.

“We’re an organization that works to create lasting change in the community,” he says. “We have to find a way to articulate what we do in the community so that people understand it and it resonates with people.”

Key to strengthening its fundraising and allocation of funds to agencies and programs that deliver health and human services, he says, will be a new assessment of community needs and a new survey of donors and non-donors about their interests and the way they prefer to be asked to give.

In developing a new strategy, Chancellor says, United Way likely will consider developing resources beyond the annual drive, consolidating the six community priorities it tries to address with the unrestricted funds it receives, and launching an “overarching” initiative to address a critical community issue like gang violence.

While the annual drive will continue to be the cornerstone of United Way’s fundraising, and increasing major gifts to the drive will continue to be a key strategy, Chancellor says, United Way also will be looking for other “revenue streams,” such as sponsorships and special events.

And it likely will work to develop program “products” in partnership with individual agencies to address the interests of major donors who may want to target their giving to specific causes.

United Way also will seek sponsors for special events such as the Old Reliable Run, which generated over $100,000 for United Way last year, the second year it hosted the 10K race.

The assessment of community needs United Way will conduct will help it determine how to strengthen its system of distributing the dollars it raises, Chancellor says.

Funds now are divvied up among the four counties United Way serves based on their relative population, and volunteer “cabinets” in each county decide how to divide their respective shares among the six priority areas in their counties.

“A needs assessment will help guide us in terms of what priorities really need to be funded,” Chancellor says.

The needs assessment also will help United Way decide whether to launch a broad initiative and convene other partners to address an issue like gang violence, he says.

Chancellor also says Triangle United Way is in the “thinking stage”
about working more closely, possibly by providing them with back-office services, with United Ways in counties adjacent to the three counties it serves – Wake, Durham and Orange – if they opt to initiate discussions.

It also expects soon to fill its top fundraising job and to have filled three other fundraising positions after its top fundraiser quit and Chancellor fired three other fundraisers in the wake of last year’s drive.

Ultimately, United Way is all about “community impact,” Chancellor says.

“Community impact is very complex and it’s difficult to put it into words and articulate,” he says.

The challenge, he says, is to work through its agencies and partners “so that people are better off.”

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