Asheville United Way focuses on outcomes

David Bailey
David Bailey

Ret Boney

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Heading into its annual fundraising season, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County is gearing up to raise more than the $5.4 million it brought in  during the 2009 campaign.

But more important, says David Bailey, president and CEO, is the impact the organization and its partner agencies hope to have on education, income and health throughout the  community.

“We’ve always tracked outcomes, but after looking at it, we realized we’re not focused enough,” he says. “We developed visions for each of our focus areas and are setting results we hope to achieve – that not only help individuals, but are about community change.”

And in the organization’s messaging for the 2010 campaign, talk of that focus on outcomes will trump the specifics of its fundraising goal, which this year the group will keep to itself, says Bailey.

“Goals are important and our board has adopted a goal, but in the end, people want to know what you’re doing with their dollars,” he says. “The fundraising goal is secondary to our goals around education, income and health.”

The Asheville United Way raised a little more than $6 million in 2007, but since the onset of the recession, fundraising has been in decline, off a total of about 10 percent from the 2008 and 2009 campaigns.

Bailey is hoping that by focusing on outcomes when talking to agency partners, work-place giving partners and the public, fundraising will begin to grow again.

“They’re used to us telling stories to get dollars,” he says. “But we want people to understand it’s more than that – it’s about shaping the community in a positive way through collective action and making changes that are systemic.”

And that’s important for a community that is seeing needs continue to grow.

Calls to Asheville’s 2-1-1 information line, which connects residents in four counties with community resources, have shot up this year, says Bailey, and requests for financial assistance logged through 2-1-1 have totaled more than $1 million over the past 12 months.

That growing need in the community is taking a toll on Asheville United Way’s 37 partner agencies, which are having to serve more people with fewer resources.

And most of the workplace giving campaigns run by the United Way’s 400 corporate partners have posted lower results in recent years.

That’s in part because some local sectors, including real estate, manufacturing and banking, have been hard-hit by the recession, a trend that has meant fewer high-dollar gifts from the business’ employees.

But enthusiasm remains high, says Bailey, with more than 1,100 volunteers from 57 local businesses turning out for the organization’s 19th-annual Day of Caring.

Together the army of volunteers tackled projects for more than 72 local nonprofits and schools.

It’s a good start to the campaign season, but there’s more work to do, says Bailey.

“We’re going to have to be very intentional about telling our story,” he says.

As part of that story-telling effort, his organization produced and uploaded to You Tube a video that stresses the importance of coming together as a community to bring about lasting change. Since Sept. 1, the video has been viewed almost 1,000 times.

“We want donors to give because they like what the outcomes will be,” he says.

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