Greensboro United Way regroups in ‘building year’

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — For each of the past four years, United Way of Greater Greensboro fell short of the goal for its annual fundraising campaign.

This year, United Way is regrouping: Rather then set a goal for the annual campaign, it will be working to raise awareness in the community about the impact of the programs in which it invests at 29 partner health and human services agencies.

And it will be working to connect in a more personal way with donors, and provide better customer service for companies that run United Way drives in the workplace.

“We are in a building year,” says Michelle Gethers-Clark, a former executive at American Express who was named United Way president and CEO in June after serving as interim president in the wake of the resignation of Keith Barsuhn in January.

Chaired by Pete Callahan, regional vice president for commercial banking for Wells Fargo in Greensboro, the campaign will kick off September 11 with an open house at United Way’s office at 1500 Yanceyville St., to give the community a chance to meet the United Way staff, Gethers-Clark says.

“It is creating more awareness around our work,” she says. “We’ve been in the community for 91 years. United Way Worldwide has been in existence for 126 years. You potentially forget to communicate. We were almost absent in the minds and hearts and vision of people in Greensboro.”

The community has a lot of misperceptions about United Way, she says.

“People still view us as a pass-through organization,” she says. “They don’t know we’re working on outcomes, not just inputs, that we have moved into very specific areas where we’re trying to elevate the potential, trying to reduce hopelessness, and we have not done a very good job telling our story.”

While the annual campaign did not hit its goal last year, for example, United Way maintained its level of investment at more than 80 percent of the programs it supports at its partner agencies.

Agencies that met goals set in partnership with United Way to measure improvement in the lives of the people they serve received the same level of funding as the previous year, while agencies that fell short of their goals received less.

“You try to reward them for really good performance,” Gethers-Clark says. “We evaluate the direct impact on people served, the benefit the recipients derive that allows them to move out of situations,” such as the number of women who are victims of domestic violence and are able to “move out of that crisis and become a part of society.”

To help tell the story of the impact its partner agencies have on the community and the role it plays, she says, United Way will be using a range of strategies, including local media, the web, YouTube videos, written materials and individual stories about the people it serves, its donors and its partner agencies.

Last spring, for example, United Way provided pens, paper and note cards at a conference room at Syngenta, where nearly 100 employees wrote poems about inspiring experiences or thoughts.

United Way, in turn, gave those poems to Hospice & Palliative CareCenter, which distributed them to doctors and nurses who gave them to patients.

United Way also is working to reduce the time its 26 staff members spend on back-office duties so they can spend more time visiting employees at companies holding workplace campaigns.

“Everyone is part of the campaign,” Gethers-Clark says. “And they are well aware they will be out of the building.”

United Way also will be spending time with each of its 130 donors who give $10,000 or more, known as Tocqueville donors, to ensure they are “more aware of the work we’re doing,” Gethers-Clark says.

Starting in September, United Way will begin a series of eight to 10 small group “roundtables” with donors at that level.

And United Way is working to better serve corporations.

It will be functioning a volunteer broker, for example, for companies such as Replacements Ltd. and Carolina Bank that are looking for volunteer opportunities for groups of employees.

And it will be customizing pledge cards based on the needs of the corporate partners that hold workplace campaigns.

That could include adding the company’s own brand on the cards, or personalizing the cards that individual employees receive.

“‘Easy’ has become our mantra,” Gethers-Clark says.

“This community is very generous,” she says. “At the end of the day, people want to give philanthropically and they want to give back. We make it easy to implement and work with United Way.”

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