United Way lowers its fundraising target

MIDDLEBURY — United Way of Addison County (UWAC) officials will launch the 2012 fundraising campaign on Sept. 20 with what they believe is a more realistic financial goal and an impending change in its administrative leadership.
The organization will seek to raise at least $700,000 to divide among the more than 30 Addison County nonprofits it helps support. And when the UWAC ramps up its campaign this fall, it will also bid farewell to Co-director Helen Freismuth, who has decided to leave after seven years to pursue other opportunities. Fellow Co-director Kate McGowan will take the “co” out of her title when Freismuth leaves.
This year’s goal of $700,000 amounts to what the UWAC actually raised last year, when officials had set a target of $775,000 — the same goal it had pursued for the past three years in a row. Last year’s campaign not only had to contend with a sluggish economy, but also with Tropical Storm Irene. The United Way last fall processed $80,000 in donations earmarked for Irene-related causes and therefore not counted as part of the 2011 campaign goal.
“We were ever hopeful that the economy would change,” Freismuth said, but that has not happened to the extent that UWAC officials had hoped.
Still, United Way leaders are upbeat as they roll out the 2012 campaign, to be led by Lincoln residents Brian and Eva McDonough. Brian McDonough is a long-time UWAC board member and volunteer who is a partner in the Middlebury-based business Woodware. Eva McDonough is a school nurse/educator in the Addison Central Supervisory Union and a high tech pediatric nurse for Addison County Home Health and Hospice. The couple has been involved in such local causes as the renovation of Burnham Hall in Lincoln, the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department, the Weathervane United senior housing project and the Lincoln selectboard.
“United Way has changed over the years to be more responsive to community needs in the areas of health, education and financial stability,” Brian McDonough said.
“This is a great opportunity for Eva and me to help educate folks about the essential services United Way supports and United Way’s own initiatives.”
This year happens to be the 125th anniversary of United Way Worldwide, so it is no coincidence that UWAC officials are asking that donors — to help mark the occasion — give 125 percent of what they gave to last year’s campaign.
Brian McDonough said the larger donation guideline will hopefully beef up contributions that have stagnated somewhat in recent years.
“Loyal donors have been giving the same things for years and years and years, which is fantastic, but then there is also the fact that $100 doesn’t buy what $100 did many years ago,” McDonough said. “We are trying to take a realistic approach.”
As usual, UWAC officials during the coming weeks will be approaching local employers and individuals asking them about potential contributions. More than 35 percent of the UWAC’s total campaign pledges in 2011 were made through payroll deductions at participating businesses, according to Freismuth. But United Way officials are concerned the 2012 campaign might take a hit in the payroll deduction department. That’s because UTC Aerospace Systems (formerly Goodrich Corp.) has a policy throughout its locations of discouraging on-site solicitations by charitable organizations, according to Freismuth. UTC’s Vergennes employees continue to contribute to philanthropic causes, however.
“We have to think of creative ways to reach those folks,” McGowan said.
“It just points out the importance of individual giving,” she added. “We hope that as we get out in the community, folks who don’t have the opportunity to give through the payroll campaign … will still find a way to participate.”
The United Way will kick off its 2012 campaign in its customary way — with the annual “Days of Caring,” set this year for Thursday, Sept. 20, and Saturday, Sept. 22. On those days, participants will fan out throughout the county to volunteer at various nonprofits. It gives the volunteers first-hand knowledge of the services provided by local nonprofits, which in turn get a helping hand on projects or paperwork that they had been unable to complete.
At the same time, volunteers will be able to see how the United Way’s financial assistance is being put to work. And particularly in this economy, United Way officials want to stress that campaign funds are used responsibly and judiciously. Nonprofits receiving UWAC funds are first carefully evaluated by a committee that gauges the success of their programs and the extent to which they collaborate with other nonprofits for the greater good of clients. Prospective recipients are measured against three separate priorities United Way officials believe are essential for strong families, individuals and communities: Health, education and financial stability.
Fewer donations has unfortunately meant smaller grants to nonprofits, McGowan said.
“I think what (the nonprofits) have been doing is getting back to basics,” McGowan said. “They have been trying to hold the line on expenses and I think they are working hard to serve more people with less resources. So it’s a hard time to say, ‘We’re sorry, we can’t give you what you’ve asked for.’ But again, it brings to mind how important a diligent review process is. We have been working with agencies to really talk about whether they are really making a difference in the lives of the people they serve.”
Officials noted the UWAC has grown into more than an organization directing money to charitable causes. The organization also:
•  Organizes a free dental clinic each year in collaboration with local dentists. The 2012 edition, held this past June, saw several area dentists contribute a combined total of $20,000 in services. Participating dentists have asked to remain anonymous, according to Freismuth.
•  Leads a reading mentorship program through which struggling elementary school students are paired up with adult readers to help them increase their proficiency.
•  Offers “financial stability” classes for adults looking for tips to build a solid economic foundation.
“We are no longer an organization that takes in money and hands it back out,” McDonough said. “It’s an organization that now tries to get those agencies to collaborate with one another, and we also develop initiatives of our own.
“We are an initiative building organization,” he added.
Freismuth helped build many of those initiatives, which she hopes will live long past her departure from the UWAC. She has no immediate plans for her next professional move.
“I will take a little time off and decide something new,” Freismuth said. “We’ll see.”
For more information about the UWAC and its campaign, log on to www.UnitedWayAddisonCounty.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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