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Forsyth United Way drive sets record

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By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Faced with a loss of 9,000 jobs at big local companies in recent years, and flat giving from its biggest individual donors, United Way of Forsyth County in its annual fund drive last fall focused on building workplace campaigns at small and mid-sized employers, and asking its largest donors to give more.

The strategy paid off: United Way raised over $17.4 million in its biggest drive ever, an increase of 6.4 percent, or over $1 million, from the previous year.

“It really reflects the fact that our community has adjusted to some of the larger employer reductions in force and other changes over the last five to six years, and that we have a lot mid-sized companies that are stepping up and have positive business conditions, and are becoming very involved in the community,” says Ron Drago, United Way president.

Funds raised in the drive will be invested in United Way partner agencies under a new allocation system that has defined new priority areas.

United Way also is gearing up for this fall’s drive, which will be chaired by Susan Ivey, chairman, president and CEO of Reynolds American Inc., parent of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

The company’s foundation already has pledged to spend $1 million over five years to match gifts by women who give at least $500 this fall and agree to increase that by at least $100 a year until their annual gift totals $1,000.

Chaired by Mike Wells, senior partner at law firm Wells Jenkins Lucas & Jenkins, the 2006 drive showed deep and broad growth in all categories, Drago says.

The 10 biggest corporate campaigns, which account for 55 percent of the drive, grew 5 percent, while the campaigns at the next 50 mid-sized companies, which account for 23 percent, grew 8 percent.

And all other business sectors, ranging from finance, construction and real estate to professions, government and nonprofits, grew 6 percent, which Drago says was the best showing for those sectors in years.

“That’s really encouraging because those are accounts we have a more difficult time reaching,” he says.

While 3,900 donors each gave over $1,000 last year and accounted for 45 percent of all funds raised, giving by roughly half those donors has been flat or even declined over the past two years or more, Drago says.

“We weren’t focusing on them in a way that really made a compelling case or explicitly asked for increased gifts,” he said.

So in the 2006 drive, he says, United Way asked all those donors to give more.

Compared to 168 individuals who each gave $10,000 or more in 2005 for a total of $2.6 million, for example, the 2006 drive added 24 donors at that level, bringing the total among all those “Tocqueville” donors to over $3 million.

United Way also created a new category, soliciting gifts of $100,000 or more from 13 individuals.

Four new donors gave at that level, and all the others increased their gifts significantly, with new giving by those 13 individuals totaling $327,000.

Overall, the increase in giving to the annual drive “says something about the general economic health and direction of the community,” says  Drago. “It also demonstrates there’s a very broad sense of commitment.”

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