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Forsyth United Way counts on big gifts

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Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Last year, nearly 4,500 individuals, each giving $1,000 or more, contributed a total of nearly $9.1 million to United Way of Forsyth County during its annual fundraising drive.

Those givers, including 222 who each gave at least $10,000 or more and contributed a total of $3.5 million, accounted for roughly half the $18.3 million donated to United Way.

This year, in the face of a sinking economy and rising demand for health and human services, and after two straight years in which the drive has grown by roughly $1 million a year, United Way is counting on donors giving at those higher levels as it prepares to kick off the annual drive.

Based on visits with CEOs of roughly 60 employers that account for about 80 percent of dollars given to the drive, United Way set a fundraising goal of $18.37 million.

“The message was pretty consistent throughout,” says Ron Drago, president and CEO. “It’s a tough economy here as it is in most places.”

Few companies, he says, are growing, either in their workforce or revenue.

Yet while this year’s goal represents a modest increase from last year, which exceeded its goal by $155,000, it still represents “a pretty ambitious reach for our campaign,” Drago says.

Chaired by Steve Wiggs, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at BB&T, the drive for the second straight year will include a special effort that aims to spur more women to make larger gifts.

Supported over five years with a $1 million matching grant from the R.J. Reynolds Foundation, the effort matches contributions by women who agree to increase their giving over several years to $1,000 or more.

In its first year, the matching program last year generated a total of $433,000 from over 700 women giving at that level.

This year, the initiative aims to double, to 1,400, the number of women giving at that level.

Carla Fox, manager of support services and executive vice president at BB&T, is chairing the overall effort to generate “leadership” gifts of $1,000 or more, while Stan Kelly, president of wealth management and senior executive vice president at Wachovia, is chairing the overall effort to generate “Tocqueville” gifts of $10,000 or more.

United Way also is making a special effort to enlist small businesses that have not participated in the drive before.

The leadership of BB&T has agreed to put up $100,000 to provide matching funds for first-time corporate gifts up to $5,000 by individual companies.

Funds from the drive support United Way’s 34 partner agencies and all 70 of the programs they provide.

Last year, United Way launched a new “community impact agenda” that organized its funding for all those agencies and programs into nine categories of need.

Four of those categories represent United Way “breakthrough” initiatives that receive a big share of new dollars raised in the annual drive.

The top priority last year focused on improving the graduation rate in the county’s high schools.

Based on a competitive request for proposals that encouraged agencies to work together, United Way invested $705,000 in a pilot project that was spearheaded by the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina and also included Big Brothers Big Sisters of Forsyth County and Family Services.

The initiative has provided mentoring and other services for students and families at Parkland High School, which had a gradation rate of 65 percent, the lowest in the county.

In addition to mentoring, the program included a two-week orientation program this summer for students entering Parkland High or its main feeder school, Philo Middle School, as well as support for students’ families, many of them headed by single mothers, on issues such as housing, health, transportation and domestic violence.

In the most recent school year, the graduation rate at Parkland High increased nearly 2 percentage points, an increase Drago calls encouraging.

This year, despitegrowing economic uncertainty, Drago says, the critical message for the drive is  the impact United Way and its partner agencies have on the community.

“While all these goals are important,” he says, “we never lose sight of the fact that the campaign is really all about meeting vital human needs of tens of thousands of  children and families across our community.”

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