North Carolina United Ways struggling

Jim Morrison
Jim Morrison

Ret Boney

With most United Ways in North Carolina having completed their 2008-09 fundraising campaigns, all but four fell short of their goals.

Together, the state’s 58 local United Ways raised about $125 million, down from about $144 million raised the previous year, says Jim Morrison, president of United Way of North Carolina.

“It’s the most challenging fundraising year I’ve ever seen in 36 years as a volunteer and employee,” he says. “Discretionary dollars are at a premium and the uncertainty is a challenge.”

While some smaller United Ways that are members of the statewide group have yet to tally their results, Morrison says, the final numbers will not significantly affect the statewide total.

And so far, United Ways in only four counties have met their goals — Chatham, Cumberland, Davidson and Onslow.

While Morrison praised the leadership in those four counties and beyond, he speculates their efforts to localize the United Way’s mission of improving education, health and income paid off.

“They probably are very on target with keeping it local, focused and impactful,” he says.

And some of the major drivers of the current economic situation, including banking problems, were less of a factor in those communities than in others, he says.

But almost across the board, workplace giving and leadership giving both are taking hits, says Morrison.

“There’s been a decrease in levels of giving, and some people just can’t give at all because they no longer have any resources to give,” he says. “They’re just worried about putting food on the table and paying their bills.”

That drop in fundraising is forcing United Ways across the state to make difficult decisions.

All United Ways raise money locally and give away money locally, investing according to priorities in their own communities.

“Different United Ways have different focuses and they all are making tough decisions,” says Morrison. “Because in the vast majority of cases they have less resources to invest.”

That means taking a strategic look at the services they invest in and trying to get the greatest results with the least dollars. And that can be hard on nonprofits, and the people they serve.

“In some cases, it’s very painful, because in these economic times it’s a perfect storm in the other direction,” he says of United Ways’ partner agencies. “People who have never used United Way services are knocking on the door for the first time because of their personal situation.”

That leaves nonprofits with more demand and fewer resources.

To plug that funding gap, United Ways in the state are working hard, say Morrison.

“They’re very focused on donor relations and keeping their current base of donors,” he says. “They’re trying to reach out to new markets in terms of reaching younger professionals and other new target groups.”

Agencies also are following employment. As jobs disappear from the finance and manufacturing sectors, and gaining at schools and hospitals, United Ways are building relationships where jobs are growing, says Morrison.

“One of the beauties of United Ways is they are local,” he says. “They can try to get deeper relationships with their donors, which I think is critical.”

But as the organizations begin to think about setting their fundraising goals for the upcoming fall campaigns, there’s still a lot of uncertainty.

While some positive economic signs are beginning to crop up, Morrison says, the coming campaign season will be a challenging one.
“It will take a while for this to work through,” he says. “I’m optimistic we’ll do everything possible to raise as much money as possible for the communities of North Carolina.”

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