United Way lags in effort to reach $700,000 goal

MIDDLEBURY — The United Way of Addison County (UWAC) has reached the halfway mark in its 2012 effort to raise $700,000 for local nonprofit causes, and organizers of the annual fund drive will soon mount an all-out push to try and reach the goal by next March.
The UWAC on Sept. 20 officially launched its annual appeal for funds from individuals and businesses, many of which participate in a payroll deduction program. The sluggish economy has taken its toll on the UWAC campaign — and those of other United Ways throughout the region — in recent years. 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. It should be noted that last year’s campaign not only had to contend with a tough 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 reduced (the 2012) goal, because we haven’t met the goal in the last two years, so we set a realistic one and hope of course to bust through it,” UWAC Executive Director Kate McGowan said.
At this point, the United Way has raised just shy of $350,000 toward its goal. That is around $50,000 behind where the 2011 campaign was at this same time last year, according to McGowan. United Ways throughout the state are currently reporting progress levels of between 40 percent and 60 percent, McGowan said.
She stressed, however, that the latest tally does not reflect some important details that will soon come in.
“Because we did a staggered start, we have a couple of big campaigns that started a little late,” McGowan said, citing specifically Middlebury College and Porter Medical Center. “Those are two big campaigns we are waiting to hear back from, so I think it is going to be fine.”
Meanwhile, UWAC officials have made a list of individual donors who have regularly given to the campaign in the past but who, for one reason or another, haven’t been heard from yet this year.
“We will send them out a little reminder,” McGowan said. “We will start working hard in January and February to do a broader reminder for those other ones and also really look at folks on our list who have lapsed, who haven’t given in the last couple of years and really reach out to those folks.”
In addition, the UWAC staff and board will brainstorm about who might not yet be on the donor list and send those people a letter.
Officials are also asking regular donors to consider giving a little bit more this year, if they can, in view of the fact that individual contributions are lagging around $20,000 behind this time last year. For example, the UWAC has asked donors in the “Robert Frost” leadership category of giving to consider a bump from $1,000 to $1,250.
“Many of our leadership donors have done that, and we are very grateful,” McGowan said. She noted that still others have at the same time ramped up their smaller contributions to help the UWAC meet its goal.
Still, McGowan and her colleagues acknowledge that people are generally unable to be as generous as they were prior to the recession.
“It’s been hard for folks, especially if they’re not sure they’re going to have their jobs,” McGowan said. “Raises haven’t been happening and people have to look at their budgets. But I’m hoping things have settled down enough so that people can start contributing at the level they used to.”
There are signs that things are getting better, noted McGowan, who sometimes sits in on staff meetings at businesses to which the UWAC appeals for employee contributions.
“It seems like in many pockets, things are feeling a little more stable, sales are up…, ” McGowan said. “That gives me hope for a solid campaign and making our goal.”
And the UWAC will need a solid campaign in light of the challenging times being experienced by many of the non-profit organizations receiving United Way support. Those organizations — such as Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, WomenSafe and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes — are seeing client loads go up at the same time that resources have been diminishing. Those resources could get even scarcer as congressional leaders and the White House continue to try to avert a “fiscal cliff” in the federal budget that could considerably tighten resources for nonprofits nationwide.
The United Way is currently recruiting a manager for marketing and development, a person who McGowan said will help in the fundraising mission. That person’s job will include many of the key functions once performed by former UWAC Co-director Helen Freismuth, who left the organization this past fall.
In the meantime, the UWAC, with the help of 2012 campaign co-chairs Brian and Eva McDonough, will continue to look everywhere they can for contributions.
“Every dollar … is critical in meeting the needs of the community,” McGowan said.
Anyone interested in contributing to the campaign should contact the UWAC at 388-7189, or log on to www.unitedwayaddisoncounty.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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