FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Just as the recession began pummeling corporate profits and individual checkbooks, United Way of Cumberland County exceeded its campaign goal, a feat few of its peers in the state could match.
The organization raised $1,806,121 during its fall campaign last year, topping its goal of $1.8 million and exceeding the $1.77 million it raised the year before.
Only three other United Ways in North Carolina were able to meet their goals last fall, says Robert Hines, president and CEO of the Fayetteville-based group.
“The difference is the community,” he says. “When things get tough, people seem to come together and give a little more.”
That was the case for several key donor groups last year.
The local school system delivered the largest amount, coming in at almost $320,000, a jump of $22,000 over the year before with roughly the same number of employees, says Hines.
The number of first-time givers joining Cumberland United Way’s Marquis Society, made up of individuals giving $1,000 a year or more, jumped to 35 from an average of about 20 to 25.
One individual donor, who normally gives $1,500 a year, dug deeper to come up with $5,000.
The Public Works Commission’s campaign raised 15 percent more with the same number of employees.
And Goodyear Tire & Rubber employees contributed $278,350, up 50 percent from last year even though its campaign was conducted the week before employees were furloughed for the week of Christmas, says Hines.
“It’s because the men and women saw what was happening to them,” he says. “They stepped up, knowing they would not be compensated for the week of Christmas.”
Hines says he is proud of his community but worried about the next campaign, which will launch in August.
He’s checking in with companies about their plans, but the outlook remains murky.
“A lot of companies really don’t know,” he says. “Today is April 21. I believe some of them aren’t sure where they’ll be June 21.”
To prepare, Hines wants to meet with more local CEOs this year, and plans to host a breakfast featuring a distinguished speaker to talk about philanthropy and giving.
The organization also is getting an early start meeting with companies and already has visited about 20 elementary schools, a core base of support.
“The most important thing is to say thank you and I don’t feel like we do that enough,” says Hines.
In the meantime, he’s seeing signs of stress in the nonprofits his United Way supports, with some losing long-time donors and virtually all seeing increases in demand.
And if Cumberland United Way’s 2009 campaign falls short of its goal, Hines worries that could signal broader-based funding problems for local charities.
“If our donations are down, that tells me the other areas they receive income from will also probably be down,” he says. “It would make for a very difficult situation.”