Forsyth United Way aims higher

Ron Drago
Ron Drago

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A year ago, with the troubled economy driving up demand for health and human services, United Way of Forsyth County set a $17 million goal for its annual  fund drive, or $300,000 to $400,000 more than had been recommended by roughly 50 CEOs whose organizations and employees contribute 80 percent to 85 percent of the annual  campaign.

The drive raised $17.2 million.

And in its fiscal year that ended June 30, even though last year’s drive raised $300,000 less than it had in 2008, United Way tapped its reserves to help meet the growing demand for services at its 33 partner agencies.

In addition to funds raised in the drive that it allocated to those agencies, United Way contributed $100,000 to a special fund it created with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and the Winston-Salem Foundation to help local charities provide emergency services.

This year, United Way aims to raise $17,325,000, an increase of 0.7 percent from the total raised last year.

“In Winston-Salem, a lot of people are hurting,” says Ron Drago, United Way president and CEO. “Almost all the agencies that deal with emergency and basic needs have felt this significantly.”

To ease the impact of the recession on the funds it allocates to its partner agencies, United Way two years ago reduced its annual operating budget by 8 percent, and also has frozen staff salaries and not filled an empty position.

Chaired by Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University, the drive will kicked off Sept. 11 at the school’s home football game against Duke.

United Way was featured in pre-game activities, as well as communications during the game, including a half-time interview with Mike Wells, chair of United Way’s board and senior partner at law firm Wells Jenkins, and Mike Baughan, a United Way board member and president and chief operating officer of B/E Aerospace, a primary sponsor of the game.

Drago says a key focus of the drive will be soliciting contributions of $1,000 or more, which last year raised nearly $8.3 million, or roughly 50 percent of funds donated to the campaign.

“We tend to stick with those things that have worked best for us and really represent the greatest opportunity and commitment to United Way in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County,” he says.

In last year’s drive, 204 donors each gave $10,000 or more for a total of nearly $3.4 million, representing roughly 20 percent of the overall campaign and an increase of $75,000 from the previous year.

In its first 24 years, that “Tocqueville” effort has generated a total of $33 million in giving at that level.

And an initiative launched three years ago to encourage women to give $1,000 or more has enlisted 822 donors and raised $1.5 million in new support from those women.

Spearheaded by Susan Ivey, chairman, president and CEO of Reynolds American, and chaired this year by Jean Adams, a lawyer at Womble Carlyle, the Women’s Leadership Council invites women to begin with a $500 gift and increase their annual gift to $1,000 over six years.

The Reynolds American Foundation is providing matching funds totaling $1 million over five years that are used to bring each individual donor’s gift to $1,000 in the sixth year.

Roughly two-dozen companies offer similar “step-up” programs designed to encourage employees to increase their annual giving to $10,000.

To engage more young adults in the campaign, United Way also is launching a program, chaired by Kathryn Evans, a senior business planner at Novant Health, that targets donors up to age 40 to give $250 and agree to volunteer 24 hours during the year.

And with the city’s two big medical centers among the five organizations that give the most to the campaign, United Way also aims to enlist more physicians and health-care executives to make gifts of $1,000 or more.

“Because of the generosity of the community, we’ve been able to assure that critical services are available,” says Eric Aft, chief operating officer at United Way.

“These services are making a difference,” he says. “This campaign is focused on helping people build on the things that are working and helping us reach more people.”

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