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United Way attracting more volunteers, but donations are lagging

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Posted on April 17, 2017 |
By John Flowers



MIDDLEBURY — United Way of Addison County (UWAC) officials are coming to grips with two current philanthropic trends in Addison County, both of which will have a significant bearing on the organization’s future fundraising efforts.

First, the not-so-good news: Some of the county’s most senior, generous donors are either passing on, relocating or transferring their charitable dollars to other causes — such as grandchildren’s tuition bills. This is contributing to an estimate that the local United Way will fall about $50,000 short of what was a $650,000 fundraising goal for its 2016 campaign.

But there’s also some good news. While folks haven’t been giving as much money to UWAC as in past years, they are donating their time in larger numbers than ever before. UWAC during the last year has registered 114 new volunteers to help out at 30 area non-profits. That brings United Way’s current total to 356 registered volunteers.

“We continue to engage younger members of the community,” said Nancy Luke, UWAC’s manager of development and marketing. This way, the United Way is tapping the energy of a new generation of folks who can currently volunteer time, and eventually, some dollars to support the many charitable programs that help clothe, feed, house and heal area residents in need.

That said, UWAC officials are making a final push to close the books on the 2016 campaign on a high note. They will soon send out approximately 4,000 annual reports that will include a “don’t forget to donate” message. The annual report will disclose how the UWAC allocated the resources from its 2015 fund drive, and share testimonials from local residents who benefitted from United Way resources.

“We also want to remind people that the 2016 fundraising is not over,” Luke said.

Meanwhile, UWAC officials are already starting to funnel some of the 2016 dollars to the local partner agencies that include Addison County Transit Resources, Elderly Services Inc., the Open Door Clinic, and Addison County Home Health & Hospice.

Some of the benefitting agencies have decided to bring in their own marketing and development people to do some fundraising on their own, according to Luke.

“I think part of that is in response to their state and federal funding being reduced,” she said. “They need more avenues for donations.”

UWAC Executive Director Kate McGowan is not surprised with this trend given the current fiscal climate. Some of the donors who have traditionally given through United Way are now giving directly to agencies of their choice, translating into fewer gifts to UWAC’s annual campaign.

“We’re confident the community is still giving; it is just being distributed a little differently,” McGowan said.

And she said that’s not really a bad thing, since the dollars are still getting to nonprofits, albeit through a different route.

“We applaud that,” Luke said. “The goal is for these organizations to be supported, however that happens. We will continue to focus on the ‘whole family picture,’ because we know that generally, when somebody is using the services of one of those organizations, they are probably using the services of multiple (nonprofits).”

United Way officials are exploring ways of stemming the recent decline in individual donations and those through payroll deduction campaigns at local businesses. UWAC this month lists 1,178 donors to its 2016 campaign, a figure that includes 785 repeat contributors, 131 recently brought back into the fold, and 262 people giving for the first time. At the same time, the campaign lost 33 donors, according to United Way statistics.

The UWAC campaign includes several giving levels, with the “Robert Frost” category ($1,250 to $9,999) accounting for a combined total of $311,280 from a combined total of 131 donors. These are unfortunately the folks whose numbers have been in decline, according to Luke, as a result of deaths, relocations and other financial commitments.

Meanwhile, McGowan said she’s noted a “shift in corporate culture” in recent years as it relates to charitable giving. Employers now seem less anxious to pick a lead charity and encourage workers to donate to that effort, she said.

When the 2016 contributions are finally tallied, Luke anticipates Middlebury College employees will have given around $72,000. The college usually generates around $100,000 in donations, according to Luke. She anticipates Porter Medical Center to “hold its own” at around $23,000 and for UTC Aerospace in Vergennes to at least remain level at $28,000 with its donations.

“UTC has really embraced the United Way culture,” Luke said.

McGowan acknowledged a regular conversation with her colleagues on the wisdom of setting an annual fundraising goal, given the changes in residents’ giving patterns. McGowan wants UWAC to stick with an annual goal.

“We have this internal debate every year,” McGowan said. “Do we set an easy, ‘low hanging fruit’ goal and then pat ourselves on the back … or do we ask for what we really need? The reality is the grant requests keep going up. Funding from outside our community continues to decline, and the need continues to go up in the community. Do we want to just look good, or do we want to say, ‘This is what we truly need, can you help us?’”

And United Way officials said they’ll gladly work with whatever contributors can afford from year to year.

“That’s our promise to the community: ‘We will do great work with whatever you provide,’” McGowan said.

She stressed UWAC will leave no stone unturned in looking for resources for its non-profit partners. The organization is also looking for alternative funding sources and has been cutting its internal costs, according to McGowan.

“We work very hard for every dollar raised, so we’re not slacking off,” McGowan said. “We are working harder than we have ever worked before to find new donors and to engage with people on where the money goes and what the issues are.”

Anyone seeking more information about United Way of Addison County and its 2016 fund drive should check out unitedwayaddisoncounty.org, or call 388-7189.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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