United Way responding to economic downturn

Todd Cohen

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — Despite growing stress on donors and expected declines in giving because of the slumping economy, Triangle United

Way aims to help address rising demand for health and human services by raising more in its annual drive this year than it did last year.

The goal for the drive, chaired by David Strong, president of Rex Healthcare, will total $19.5 million, up $400,000 from last year, even though “known losses” in the marketplace since last year have prompted United Way to reduce its base of giving to $17.5 million, says Craig Chancellor, CEO.

The economic decline has increased demand for services at United Way agencies, particularly those addressing basic needs like food, shelter and transportation, he says.

And agencies like Meals on Wheels that depend on transportation are finding it tough to keep volunteers because of high gasoline prices, he says.

Overall, Chancellor says, United Way expects its partner agencies to request more support this year.

“The economy is hard on everybody,” he says. “But when you look at those who were living marginally anyway, it’s even harder on them. So they’re turning to agencies for help.”

Chancellor says he expects corporate giving this year to hold steady but is “a little bit nervous” about employee giving in workplace campaigns.

“People don’t have the kind of discretionary income they did before the effects of this economy,” he says.

An added challenge this year will be securing donated media advertising in the face of heightened demand for paid advertising from political candidates in a big election year.

“It makes it harder for us to tell our story,” Chancellor says.

So United Way, which kiced off the drive with “impact tours” in Durham, Orange and Wake counties, plans to communicate more directly with donors using email and regular mail than it has in the past.

Roger Stancil, Chapel Hill town manager, chai this year’s drive in Orange County, while John Stallings, president of SunTrust Bank for Central Carolina, chairs the Durham County drive, and Doug Vinsel, CEO of Duke Health Raleigh Hospital, chairs the Wake County drive.

Key to this year’s drive, Chancellor says, will be securing larger gifts from individuals, enlisting new companies to participate, and increasing the level of participation by employees at companies that have taken part in the past.

Giving by individuals who gave $1,200 to $9,999 last year totaled $6.3 million, and giving by individuals who gave $10,000 or more totaled $1.6 million, with overall giving at those levels representing over 40 percent of the total raised.

This year, a handful of companies will contribute a total of $45,000 to a “challenge fund” to provide an incentive to new givers who agree to increase their giving to $10,000 over up to four years.

Chairing the effort to secure “Tocqueville” gifts of $10,000 or more is Mark Ascolese, CEO of Ascolese Enterprises in Raleigh.

“Leadership” gifts of $1,200 to $9,999 also will be a big focus of the drive, particularly giving at that level by women and by African Americans.

Chairing the women’s leadership effort, which last year raised $950,000, is Gayle Harris, assistant health director for Durham County, while the African-American leadership effort is chaired by Jasmine Smith, project manager for community leadership at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and her husband, Queron Smith, senior vice president and city executive in Durham at Mechanics and Farmers Bank.

J.R. Shearin, managing partner at Deloitte and chair of last year’s drive, is chairing the effort this year to recruit new companies for the campaign.

A key strategy will be to work with partner agencies to “open doors” for United Way at employers with which the agencies have ties.

To increase participation in workplace campaigns, United Way volunteers will visit CEOs to develop strategies for their organizations.

Workplace giving is higher, for example, when employers invite employees who have not given in the past to meetings at which representatives of United Way talk about the impact its partner agencies have in addressing community needs, Chancellor says.

Employee giving overall totaled $15.3 million last year, with 7 percent of employees giving at all companies that held campaigns, compared to 19 percent at companies at which United Way made presentations.

“It’s a tough year,” Chancellor says. “We just hope that people will respond and remember that there are a lot of people out there who are in very, very bad shape and need help.”

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