Charlotte United Way investing in impact

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To meet rising demand fueled in part by the damaged economy, United Family Services in December will open a new 80-bed Shelter for Battered Women, replacing its 29-bed shelter.

To help pay for the new facility, the United Way partner agency eliminated a program that had provided economic-independence counseling, with its former clients now served by Community Link, another United Way agency.

As part of a larger allocation from United Way of Central Carolinas to help cover costs at its shelter, United Family Services received $49,809, up 50 percent from the total United Way gave it last year for shelter programs.

But the agency, which received a total of nearly $1.3 million, did not get another $25,000 it had requested from United Way, which continues to see funding requests outstripping contributions in what has emerged as a year-long fundraising campaign.

Now, as it begins that campaign, United Way is focusing on connecting with donors, and connecting them with its partner agencies so donors can better understand the community needs those agencies address and the impact they have in the five counties United Way serves.

The goal of building a culture of philanthropy has become an ongoing process at United Way, says Jane McIntyre, its executive director.

“It’s connecting with the donor, and connecting the donor with the need,” she says.

Chaired by Jennifer Weber, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Duke Energy, the campaign aims to raise $21.2 million, up from the $20.9 million raised last year for its general Community Care Fund.

Last year’s campaign, which exceeded its goal by $400,000 and the previous year’s total by $700,000, marked the first campaign since the economy crashed four years ago that grew in both dollars and in the number of donors.

Still, while United Way has allocated $16.5 million to its 87 partner agencies for the fiscal year that began July 1, that total remains flat compared to the fiscal year that just ended and includes $1.2 million from United Way’s reserve fund.

To stimulate more community support, McIntyre says, United Way is counting on a new funding strategy that targets donors’ dollars to agencies such as United Family Services and Community Link that can show they are operating efficiently and making a measurable impact on addressing urgent community needs that United Way and its volunteers leaders have identified as priorities.

One way of measuring the success of that strategy, McIntyre says will be gradual growth in annual contributions to United Way, which posted its best fundraising effort in 2007.

In the new fiscal year, 44 of United Way’s partner agencies will see funding increases totaling $441,527, marking the first time in four years that so many agencies have received more funding than the previous year.

Those increases resulted partly from the fact that some agencies closed and others did not seek funding for programs that did not address priority needs identified in an assessment completed last year by the Urban Institute at UNC-Charlotte.

Bill Norton, vice president of marketing at United Way, says collaboration is key to that strategy.

“These agencies are more effective when they collaborate with one another,” he says. “No one agency can serve all this community’s needs.”

In addition to engaging donors, McIntyre says, United Way has stepped up efforts to better understand what they care about, and to thank them, personally and continually.

This summer, for example, United Way decided to discontinue a bimonthly e-newsletter because it found that over 99 percent of its 60,000 subscribers, mainly donors, were not reading it.

In its place, United Way distributed by email a 90-second video thanking donors for their donations, a video that 10 percent of subscribers viewed.

“The most important thing in giving,” McIntyre says, “you cannot say ‘thank you’ enough.”

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