Greensboro United Way steps up fundraising

Keith Barsuhn
Keith Barsuhn

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Despite the steep dive the economy took last year, United Way of Greater Greensboro fell only two percent, or $275,000, short of the $13 million goal for its annual drive.

Still, while corporate giving and the number of donors giving less than $1,000 both grew slightly, giving by donors who gave $1,000 or more fell by roughly $328,000 to just over $5 million.

Faced with that decline, and a projected drop of several percentage points in the rate at which it actually would be able to collect donors’ pledges, United Way has cut costs and shifted spending to focus more staff on fundraising year-round.

“We believe in putting together a plan that holds the line on expenses but also is shifting more dollars toward growing the campaign,” says Keith Barsuhn, United Way president.

Chaired by Tim Rice, president and CEO of the Moses Cone Health System, this year’s drive will be part of an “aggressive strategy to broaden the base” of donors, Barsuhn says.

And that strategy will be critical to help address rising demand for services at United Way’s 30 partner agencies and other community initiatives, he says.

After cutting costs that included deep reductions in contributions to employees’ retirement plans and not filling four open jobs, United Way this year allocated just over $7 million to its partner agencies, down 5.3 percent from last year.

United Way in December and January also launched a special fundraising effort that generated $400,000 for Operation Greensboro Cares, an initiative to provide emergency assistance such as shelter and food for people struggling because of the recession.

And continuing an ongoing effort, United Way has tied its funding to the ability of its partner agencies to show they are making a difference in addressing three broad areas of need United Way has made its priorities, including education, self-sufficiency and health.

“We are firmly committed to outcomes, that agencies demonstrate outcomes in addition to the number of people they serve,” Barsuhn says.

With shifts in responsibilities among its staff of 26 people, with four of those positions still open but likely to be filled soon, United Way has increased to nearly half its staff the number of employees involved in fundraising.

And while the annual drive will not begin until just after Labor Day, its traditional kickoff, United Way staff and volunteers already have begun visiting companies to solicit new business.

Overall, more staff and volunteers will focus on the drive, which will get their continuous attention.

“This whole effort is going to be year-round almost every day of the year,” Barsuhn says.

High-net-worth individuals, both existing donors and those who are prospects, will be the focus of a concentrated effort to engage them in United Way.

While the number of donors giving less than $1,000 grew by nearly one percent to nearly 24,500 in last year’s drive, the number of donors giving $1,000 or more fell to 1,824 from 2,071.

And while their total giving fell, it still accounted for nearly 41 percent of total dollars raised in the drive.

“Therein lies our decline,” says Barsuhn.

Still, while United Way last year lost nine donors who gave $10,000 or more, overall giving at that level grew by $36,000, thanks in particular to two individuals who dug deeper.

Ultimately, Barsuhn says, a key message for United Way is that the recession has affected people throughout the community.

“People today, more than a year ago, know of more people personally who have been impacted by the recession,” he says. “We demonstrate that, through the programs we support, more people are being helped, and it’s lasting change.”

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