United Way fund drive is falling short

MIDDLEBURY — Citing a lag in payroll deduction contributions and a variety of other charities to which residents are donating their limited philanthropic dollars, representatives of the United Way of Addison County are concerned about the organization’s ability to achieve its 2014 fund drive goal of banking $720,000 for local nonprofits.
As of this past Tuesday, UWAC had received around $550,000 in contributions and pledges for the 2014 campaign, which will run through June 30. This is a juncture in the campaign when United Way officials usually have a pretty good read on the numbers and whether the goal will be met.
“I am projecting, based on what I’m expecting, for us to come out around even with last year, which was $680,000,” said Nancy Luke, UWAC’s manager of development and marketing. “Sadly, I don’t think we’re going to make our goal.”
A look at the ledger reveals, among other things, that UWAC has been gleaning less from its payroll deduction campaign, through which workers at participating businesses agree to set aside a certain amount from each paycheck for the annual United Way fund drive. Proceeds are allocated to UWAC’s 29 partner agencies, which provide low-income Addison County residents with food, shelter, counseling, clothing and other vital human services.
Luke noted 126 businesses participated in the 2013-2014 UWAC campaign. Ninety-nine businesses thus far have signed up for the 2014-2015 fund drive, according to Luke. Payroll yield from the 2013-2014 campaign was $312,508, compared to $210,846 so far this year — not including approximately $8,000 still expected to come in.
The decline in payroll gifts began during the recession, Luke noted.
It should also be noted that last year’s campaign benefitted from a special, $10,000 corporate gift.
“We won’t get that this year,” Luke said, though she and her colleagues — including UWAC Executive Director Kate McGowan — are speaking with the donor to see if that $10,000 gift might be resurrected for the 2015 campaign.
McGowan was at a United Way conference last week and could not be reached for this story.
On the brighter side, two of UWAC’s largest payroll campaign contributors haven’t disappointed. Porter Medical Center is up from last year’s numbers, while Middlebury College workers are about on par with what they gave last year, according to Luke.
There is some more good news when one looks at UWAC’s roster of individual donors.
United Way has a “Leadership” category of giving ($1,000 to $1,249), as well as a “Robert Frost” category (more than $1,250). Luke said 27 percent of the combined 188 donors in those two categories upped their respective contributions this year, compared to the 10 percent who decreased their giving in those categories.
In addition, UWAC has a “Tocqueville Society” class of giving that has attracted four donors all giving in excess of $10,000 for the 2014 campaign.
“That’s pretty special,” she said.
The United Way 2014 campaign is being chaired by the Cornwall duo of Karl Lindholm and Brett Millier. Lindholm is not giving up hope of reaching the $720,000 goal.
“I’m optimistic about a late surge in this year’s campaign, as we are still following up with important contributors in the past, and new constituents,” Lindholm said. “I am also optimistic that we have gained ground this year in organizational aspects of the campaign that will pay off in the future. We’re still getting the word out about the crucial work of the agencies and programs of the United Way and trust the community will respond.”
Looking ahead, Luke stressed it will be imperative for UWAC to recruit new donors, including young folks who can continue the legacy as longtime contributors to the United Way.
“We definitely have an older and aging donor base,” Luke said.
She noted UWAC lost 20 of its Robert Frost donors during the past five years, either to death, relocation outside of Addison County, or changed economic circumstances.
“The value of (those 20 lost donors) is just under $60,000,” Luke said. “We had four new donors (in Robert Frost) this year, totaling $4,000. That’s a small dent in that $60,000. So we really need to work on our individual donors and we are looking at ways to engage younger donors. It may be engaging them in volunteering to start out, or working on our committees … so they can get more educated about what we do.”
United Way officials acknowledged the fund-raising landscape has changed substantially during the past couple of decades. There are more charitable causes competing with one another through social media, email, the airwaves and conventional mail. Many of UWAC’s member agencies must also make their individual appeals.
“They need to,” Luke said of the agencies’ fund drives. “They are losing funding left and right from federal sources and various places they get money from. So they are needing to step up their own individual fund-raising efforts.”
Some people have used UWAC as a pass-through to give their dollars to specific charities in the county. The organization is now encouraging those folks to give directly to the local charity of their choice to avoid the extra administration. But Luke and her colleagues are thankful that a large number of Addison County residents still depend on UWAC to allocate their charitable dollars through a deliberative process where they are likely to do the most good.
Luke stressed donors still have plenty of time to give to the 2014 campaign. And she noted an upcoming event that could generate a nice chunk of change: “United in Harmony,” a competition of a cappella groups, is set for Thursday, May 7, at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury. Teams of three to 12 singers are invited to register for the competition, during which they will harmonize before a group of judges. Entry and admission fees will go to United Way of Addison County. First prize will be $500; second prize will fetch $250.
“I think this event has some real potential,” Luke said.
For more information about United in Harmony and the United Way campaign, visit www.unitedwayaddisoncounty.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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