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United Way drive trails last year’s pace

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Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Faced with controversy over its ousted president’s compensation, an economy in turmoil, and the capital markets in freefall, United Way of Central Carolinas finds its annual fundraising drive lagging.

Midway through the drive, United Way has raised $14.6 million, over half the $27 million it had raised at midpoint last year, and it estimates that losses it expects or knows about so far total roughly $5.7 million, says Diane Wright, senior vice president for resource development and regional operations.

Among the 100 largest workplace campaigns, which together accounted for 87 percent of the $45.3 million contributed last year overall, giving so far this year is trailing last year’s midpoint total by 19.4 percent.

Thirty-seven employers that together accounted for $444,000 in giving last year have cancelled their campaigns, citing the controversy over compensation for Gloria Pace King, who was ousted as United Way president just before the drive kicked off.

And Bank of America and Wachovia, which together accounted for 37 percent of all dollars given last year, have been at the center of the tumultuous changes that continue on Wall Street, leaving their impact on the drive uncertain.

But the drive, which does not have a specific dollar goal this year, also has seen some successes and provided big opportunities for United Way to tell its story, Wright says.

Gifts of $1,000 to $9,999 by individuals total $1.1 million, compared to $622,000 at midpoint last year.

“It’s donors who have the ability to give at that level that we are hoping may offset some of the donations that may have come from individuals who cannot afford to give this year,” Wright says.

Gifts of $10,000 or more are roughly flat compared to last year, although the drive so far has generated 13 new Tocqueville donors, plus 163 who have renewed their Tocqueville gifts.

A special effort this year to recruit new businesses that did not hold workplace campaigns or make corporate gifts in the past already has enlisted 26 new companies.

And while media reports on the compensation controversy have not been “100 percent positive,” Wright says, the scrutiny has had “a silver lining” for the organization.

“People are interested in hearing what’s going on at United Way,” she says, “and we have record-breaking opportunities to get in front of groups and individuals to tell the United Way story and the role United Way and the agencies play in this community.”

In addition to raising money to help agencies meet rising demand for services, United Way has been focusing on assisting people hurt by the tumbling economy and the breakdown in the financial markets, she says.

And while the economic slide and rising prices may hurt giving, she says, they also are creating greater need for health and human services.

“It’s exactly the time when donors realize how important United Way is in our whole interconnected system of agencies,” she says. “Our agencies work together to provide all the needed services a family or an individual might need.”

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