Triangle United Way shifting role to catalyst

By Todd Cohen

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — In September, culminating a regional competition known as the Innovate United Challenge, a local organization or group of organizations will win $50,000, along with pro-bono consulting, to launch a collaborative program to reduce childhood hunger in the region.

Sponsored by United Way of the Greater Triangle, the competition is part of a larger effort by United Way to transform its role and impact.

Traditionally seen as an umbrella group that raises money each fall, mainly in workplace campaigns, to support partner agencies providing health and human services, United Way now is focusing on raising awareness about urgent problems related to poverty, and engaging community resources to address their symptoms and causes.

The childhood hunger competition is “indicative of a huge transformation that’s underway,” says Mack Koonce, who joined United Way as CEO two years ago after serving as chief operating officer for Philadelphia-based Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

With its annual fundraising campaign set to begin, United Way is working on a handful of other collaborative efforts to address basic needs and long-term solutions for low-income families and children.

Those efforts include initiatives to serve youth aging out of foster care, improve services for the region’s homeless population, and create customized volunteer opportunities in sync with employers’ business focus.

Chaired by George Habel, executive vice president at Capitol Broadcasting Co., this year’s campaign likely will try to raise more than the $14.2 million it raised last year, when it posted its first increase — 4 percent — since 2006, Koonce says.

Last year’s campaign also raised an additional $5.2 million designated by donors to be distributed to particular programs.

With the funds it raises this year, United Way also expects to invest more in community programs than the $5.8 million it invested last year. In the face of  continuing growth in demand for services, United Way last year invested 10 percent more than the previous year.

Virginia Parker, former associate director of the Wake Tech Foundation who joined United Way this year as senior vice president for resource development and strategic partnerships, says United Way’s focus now is on “year-round engagement.”

Four to six times a year, for example, United Way offers customized volunteer opportunities for each of a growing number of employers such as Nationwide, RTI, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and Syngenta.

And rather than touting its fundraising during workplace campaigns, Parker says, United Way is “talking about our work, and engaging employees in a community conversation.”

Its work now includes the foster-youth and homelessness efforts, both supported by a Financial Stability Fund for which United Way aims to raise $1.5 million over three years. In its first year, United Way has raised roughly half its goal.

For the foster-youth initiative, five partner agencies each in Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston counties will coordinate housing, financial-literacy, and education and job-readiness services for a total of 75 individuals ages 17 to 20 who are aging out of the foster-care system. For the Wake effort, launched this year, youth already are receiving services more quickly than in the past, Koonce says.

And for the homelessness effort, United Way and half-a-dozen partner agencies have developed a common web-based tool the agencies are testing to gather “intake” information from clients.

United Way, which operates with an annual budget of $4 million and a staff of 36 employees, supports 160 programs at 82 partners agencies, including 16 it has added through a competitive process open to nonprofits that share United Way’s priorities and can show their impact.

United Way also has reorganized its staff, particularly in the areas of resource development and marketing, “to engage the community in a different way,” Koonce says. “The way to connect donors to enthusiasm is not in the donation but in the work and having them be part of the community,” he says. “This is driving everything we do.”

A key goal for United Way is to “build a network of partners who are working collaboratively to sustain established solutions, build the promising ones, and use the Innovate Challenge to launch new solutions,” Koonce says. “There’s a huge urgency to do more.”

Wake Tech drive to support growth

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Fueled in part by the region’s economic boom, and more recently by the economic downturn, the number of students enrolled in academic or continuing-education classes at Wake Technical Community College has surged to 64,000 from 35,000 over the past 10 years.

As a result, the school for each of the past four semesters has not been able to meet demand from roughly 6,000 people who each wanted to enroll in 2.5 classes on average.

“Unmet demand is already here,” says Stephen Scott, who has served as president of the school since October 2003.

To meet rising growth in demand, the Wake Tech Foundation has launched the quiet phase of a campaign to raise $10 million to support student scholarships and programs, professional development for faculty and staff, and equipment and technology for classrooms and campuses.

The campaign already has raised $1.5 million in a silent phase that began in July 2011, and will kick off its public phase in January 2013, says Virginia Parker, director of strategic partnerships for the foundation.

The campaign, which aims to conclude by the end of 2013, represents “the first significant outreach to the community to enable them to invest in their community college,” Parker says.

Operating with an annual budget of $100 million, 83 percent of it from the state and 17 percent from Wake County, the school also receives $50 million in federal loans and Pell grants for students.

Over the course of a year, roughly 25,000 students are enrolled in academic programs at Wake Tech, with another 40,000 enrolled in continuing-education programs.

Continuing-education students include 8,000 pursuing work at the high-school level or below; 8,000 in police, fire, emergency-medical, corrections or other public-safety programs; and 24,000 in short courses, mainly designed to help them keep or get a job.

The greatest continuing-education demand for the past 10 years has been for information-technology classes, particularly from students needing certification for licenses for software from companies like Cisco, Microsoft and Red Hat, Scott says.

Wake Tech also provides training for about 3,000 students through contracts with their employers, a program that has seen a lot of demand, particularly from biotech companies, since the economy collapsed in September 2008.

The school also provided start-up training in 2009 for the staff of Raleigh’s new convention center, and for a range of hospitality-industry employers in the months leading up to the National Hockey League all-star game held in Raleigh in January 2011.

Roughly half the students in Wake Tech’s academic programs, an enrollment that has doubled over the past 10 years, are enrolled in technical programs such as welding, plumbing, electricity, information technology, culinary arts, and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning.

Roughly 25 percent of all students who enroll at Wake Tech already have a bachelor’s degree or higher, including 3,000 who enroll in academic programs and 12,000 who enroll in continuing-education programs.

The school is on track to serve 80,000 students by 2016, Scott says.

Parker says the foundation’s target is for over half of the campaign’s gifts go to the school’s endowment, which now totals $1 million.

Individuals account for less than 10 percent of the $2 million the school generates in annual giving, which is divided evenly between cash and in-kind support, most of it from corporations, and those patterns are likely to reflect giving to the campaign, Parker says.

The school, she says, plays a critical role in “economic growth, a prepared workforce with the right skills, and productive, contributing graduates.

“When they stay here and graduate and have skills to get a job,” she says, “they will contribute to the community and help strengthen our economy, which helps improve our quality of life.”