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Forsyth United Way aims to plug gap

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By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Squeezed between rising needs and shrinking support, United Way of Forsyth County is asking companies and donors to dig deeper to support the delivery of health and human services.

In its annual fund drive that kicked off Sept. 7, United Way has a set a goal of $16.85 million, up from nearly $16.4 million it raised last year.

That’s down from $17.34 million in 2001, when the drive peaked.

Since then, the county has lost 9,000 jobs, including 4,000 at United Way’s three largest corporate supporters – R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, now Reynolds American; Sara Lee, now HanesBrands; and Wachovia.

The county’s overall job loss cost United Way roughly $1.9 million, says Ron Drago, president.

Growth in recent years has recouped about $900,000 of that loss, he says, but United Way still needs to raise more.

Demand for social services is escalating, he says, yet government funds for many social services have been reduced or even ended, while lower investment returns has limited funding from foundations and other sources.

Still, visits with CEOs of United Way’s 60 largest corporate supporters, which represent 75 percent of the dollars the drive raises, show “a lot of optimism” and growth, Drago says.

The drive will focus on generating more employee and corporate support at those firms, and on 3,900 individual donors who give $1,000 or more and account for nearly half United Way’s funds.

Among donors who give $1,000 or more, nearly half have given the same amount for two to three years and, in many cases, for much longer, Drago says.

“We really need to have people step up their giving over time to be able to address the constantly growing needs in the community,” he says.

Fifteen companies are offering to match increases in giving by donors making gifts of $1,000 or more.

And 34 of 37 companies United Way has contacted have agreed to hold workplace campaigns for the first time, or to increase their goals.

For the fourth straight year, United Way will use marketing materials prepared on a pro-bono basis by Greensboro communications firm CoyneBeahmShouse and, for the past three years, shared with other United Ways in the region and other parts of the state.

And as part of ongoing electronic partnerships it has begun forming with its top 100 companies, United Way will be delivering campaign updates and materials to employees of some of those companies through their internal communications channels such as email and websites.

A key message of the drive, chaired by Mike Wells, senior partner at law firm Wells Jenkins Lucas & Jenkins, will be United Way’s accountability, Drago says.

For the second straight year, for example, United Way received the highest rating, four stars, from Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that rates over 5,000 charities on their fiscal management.

United Way of Forsyth County is one of only 23 United Ways in the U.S. to receive that four-star rating, and ranks third among the 128 largest United Ways in the U.S., Drago says.

Chairing next year’s drive will be Susan Ivey, chairman, president and CEO of Reynolds American.

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