Triangle United Way targets poverty

By Todd Cohen

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — Since 2007, the year before the economy crashed, the number of residents in the Triangle who live on low-incomes or in poverty has grown by 25 percent, a rate of growth that mirrors that of the population of low-income and poor people in the United States.

Yet during the same five-year period, donations to United Way of the Greater Triangle and to its 77 partner agencies have declined.

“This is a burden the nonprofit sector cannot continue to bear,” says Jim Green, senior vice president for resource development at United Way. “We’re not maximizing in this community the total potential for philanthropy.”

As it kicks off its annual fundraising campaign today, United Way is focusing on a year-round effort to do a better job telling the story of people in need in the four counties it serves, and the role its partner agencies play in addressing those needs.

Chaired by Rick McNeel, chairman, president and CEO of Lord Corp., the campaign will focus on getting more people to give through workplace campaigns, which account for the bulk of donations but historically have not mustered more than 20 percent of employees at participating companies.

It also will focus on generating more contributions from people who give $1,200 or more, a group that accounts for about one-fourth of the annual campaign.

Last year’s campaign raised $16.5 million, down from $17.4 million in 2010, with donors last year giving $8.65 million of the total to United Way’s general Community Care Fund, one the remaining dollars designated to other agencies, one-fourth of them United Way partner agencies.

United Way did not set a goal last year and did not set a public goal this year but aims to raise roughly the total it raised last year.

“Through surveys, we find our donors are not motivated by a big overall goal,” Green says. “The things that motivate them are the stories, the agencies and the people being helped, and the impact being done with their donations.”

Telling those stories are critical, he says.

“We are really here to help low-income individuals and people in poverty,” he says, a group that includes “new entrants”  who were not in such dire straits before the economy collapsed four years ago.

“These are people who were working, they were getting by, maybe they were on the edges, they were surviving, but now they are not, they definitely need help,” Green says.

It is United Way and its partner agencies, he says, “who are caring for these folks, making sure they have food on the table, that they can afford housing, that they’re getting job skills and training, that they have access to better money-management skills to help them try to get by.”

While workplace campaigns will continue to generate most of the dollars contributed through United Way, it also has been expanding its use of social media and blogging to reach and engage new generations of donors, and to tell its story, Green says.

United Way has built its Facebook following to nearly 700 fans since launching its Facebook page in late 2008, with its Twitter following growing to over 1,500 since it began Tweeting in 2009.

“Our community has to  come together to figure out what we’re going to do,” he says. “We can’t continue to operate the way we have been as a nonprofit community and as a community as a whole. There are too many people falling through the cracks.”

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