By Todd Cohen
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Soon after arriving in Winston-Salem three years ago to head Reynolds American, formed through the merger of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Susan Ivey told officials of United Way of Forsyth County she eventually would be willing to chair its annual fund drive.
With the drive that kicked off Aug. 28, she is keeping her promise, and giving a special boost to United Way’s effort to diversify its donor base through a $1 million challenge grant from the R.J. Reynolds Foundation to spur bigger gifts from women.
“I think it’s very important as leaders in a community to be active in philanthropy, and because I’m a strong believer in the United Way, I think that’s the best way for me to be actively involved in making a difference,” says Ivey, who is chairman, president and CEO of Reynolds American and also serves on the Women’s Leadership Council of United Way of America.
To reach its goal of $18.15 million, up 4 percent from the record-high total it raised last year, United Way is counting on larger gifts from individuals, and on smaller and mid-sized employers that participate in the drive, says Ron Drago, United Way president.
The campaign will focus on United Way’s top two priorities for spending funds it raises in the drive.
United Way plans to spend up to about $500,000, or 70 percent of new dollars it aims to raise, on efforts to increase the high-school graduation rate and to strengthen lower-income families’ financial stability.
Those are among 10 community priorities for which United Way has set specific “outcomes” to measure progress.
A big focus of the drive will be to recruit donors to make gifts of $1,000 or more for the first time, or to persuade donors who have given at that level to increase their giving.
Last year, 4,186 donors giving $1,000 or more contributed nearly $8.33 million, or nearly half of total donations.
To generate bigger gifts from women, the R.J. Reynolds Foundation has pledged $1 million over five years to match gifts by women who give at least $500 this fall and agree to increase their giving by at least 20 percent a year until their annual gift reaches a higher targeted level.
And United Way will use a $100,000 challenge grant from Andy Brown, president of DataChambers, to match donations from entrepreneurs, owners of small and mid-sized businesses and other high-net-worth individuals who agree to increase their giving to $10,000 over three years.
To boost giving by women, Ivey has spearheaded creation of a local Women’s Leadership Council that will be responsible for using the R.J. Reynolds Foundation’s matching dollars to attract new women donors and invest their contributions in efforts to boost the high-school graduation rate.
With Reynolds American the only company in the Fortune 500 last year at which women held the top three jobs, Ivey says, the R.J. Reynolds Foundation wanted to help spur giving by women.
“Women engaging in the community — and particularly as it relates to children and families, which is very much where women’s volunteerism tends to gravitate towards – can make a tremendous difference,” she says.