Demand up at High Point United Way

Bobby Smith
Bobby Smith

Todd Cohen

HIGH POINT, N.C. — Calls to the 2-1-1 resource-and-referral phone line funded by United Way of Greater High Point, mainly for emergency needs like food, clothing and shelter, have doubled in the past year to an average of roughly 200 a month.

That increase reflects the impact the recession has had on local demand for health and human services, says Bobby Smith, United Way president.

Based on its annual fund drive last year that raised over $4.5 million, $1,000 more than in 2007 and the biggest increase among North Carolina’s biggest United Ways, the organization this year will distribute over $3 million to local nonprofits, including $2.85 million to its 29 partner agencies.

To help support that level of funding to local agencies, United Way has reduced its annual budget by 5.6 percent to $891,000, including a pay freeze for its 11 employees and cuts for travel, conferences and training, Smith says.

No jobs or benefits have been cut, he says, but “that will all be on the table” next year, depending on the economy, this fall’s annual drive, and the rate at which Untied Way can collect pledges.

And despite some positive indicators, he says, prospects for the drive are not clear.

Chaired by Leah Price, High Point market manager for Greensboro-based Premier Bank, the drive will not begin until mid-September, later than usual, so United Way’s board has more time to gauge the impact of the recession on potential giving.

And some employers, including those that held early “pacesetter” campaigns last year before the economy collapsed, may wait until October this year in case early signs of any economic recovery could mean a boost in giving.

“If we had had to run all those campaigns, including the biggest donor companies, during the fall, we would not have had the success we had,” Smith says.

Last year, United Way’s two biggest corporate supporters held early workplace campaigns and showed big increases.

Old Dominion Freight Line raised $280,171, an increase of roughly $25,000 from 2007, and the City of High Point raised $260,516, an increase of roughly $20,000.

In at least one good sign for this year’s drive, Smith says, United Way so far this year has been able to collect 49 percent of pledges made in last year’s drive, compared to 48 percent it had collected at the same time last year.

“While we’ve had downsizing, individuals who are donors by and large are still employed and honoring their United Way pledges through payroll deduction,” Smith says.

The challenge for United Way, he says, will be getting donors to renew their pledges in this fall’s drive.

But in at least one bad sign for this fall’s drive, two corporations that in recent years have made corporate gifts totaling $100,000 a year combined have been told by their parent companies they will not be making any corporate gifts this year.

Still, despite 10 percent unemployment locally, United Way may be “in a better position to absorb the blows” of the recession because, unlike many other communities, High Point has a manufacturing base in furniture and textiles that already has had to “make adjustments and make cuts and tighten belts,” Smith says.

United Way will continue to focus on gifts of $10,000 or more, with 70 donors at that level giving a total of $800,000 last year, up from 69 donors in 2007.

“We’re just not giving up,” Smith says. “We acknowledge a lot of those individuals have been impacted by the market” and investment scams.

What matters, he says, is the role United Way and its partner agencies play in addressing critical community needs.

“We know that people are hurting,” he says. “A significant part of what United Way is all about is to provide assistance to individuals during these times.”

United Way, for example, supports prescription-drug assistance through the Community Clinic of High Point, and both rent assistance and meals through Open Door Ministries and the Salvation Army.

In the recession, Smith says, “we want to focus on these basic core services.”

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