United Way needs big leap to make funding goal

MIDDLEBURY — The United Way of Addison County (UWAC) is hitting the home stretch of its 2015 fund drive needing a major infusion of cash if it is to achieve its goal of raising $700,000.
As of Monday, the United Way had received contributions amounting to $557,000, leaving officials concerned about the resources it will ultimately have at its disposal to distribute amongst the 32 local social service programs that fall under its organizational umbrella.
“We’ll do all we are able to do with what the community allows us to work with,” UWAC Executive Director Kate McGowan said.
Changing county demographics, unimpressive stock market performance and a growing menu of competing charity options have all contributed to UWAC falling short of its fundraising goal each of the past five years. Recognizing this, the United Way has pared back its annual goal in recent years to set a more achievable benchmark for contributors.
For example, the goal back in 2010 was $775,000.
Last year, the UWAC received $685,000 toward a goal of $720,000.
McGowan and Nancy Luke, UWAC’s manager of development and marketing, remain optimistic the 2015 campaign will swell a little more before the books officially close on June 30. History has shown that an additional $50,000 could come in from other Vermont United Way offices that have received donations specifically earmarked for UWAC, according to Luke.
“We have no reason to believe it will be lower (than $50,000),” McGowan said. “We hope it goes up a little.”
The UWAC has also sent out a “last call for donations” message with its latest annual report, and will be receiving some revenues from a final big fundraiser — the second annual “United in Harmony,” an a cappella competition to be held at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater beginning at 7 p.m. this Saturday, April 9. Eight teams will vie for prizes, with UWAC receiving revenues from the gate.
Still, it will take a major infusion of cash for UWAC to hit the $700,000 mark. And United Way leaders noted recent trends have been a little discouraging.
“We’ve had some significant losses in our Robert Front Society donors,” Luke said, referring to a category of individuals who contribute between $1,250 and $9,999 to the annual campaign. UWAC also offers a “leadership society” category of $1,000 to $1,249, and an “Alexis de Tocqueville Society” category, in which members agree to contribute more than $10,000 annually.
United Way retained 136 of its 145 largest donors from last year, and has added seven new contributors to the fold, according to Luke.
“But some of those (donors) that we lost were very large,” Luke lamented, to the extent that UWAC could see a loss of around $78,000 through the Robert Frost category for its 2015 campaign.
“We’ve had a couple of large donors move out (of Addison County),” Luke said. “We have also had a couple of cutbacks due to the (stock) market.”
The stock market has been on the rebound of late, and Luke said there is at least one big donor who vowed to make a second contribution if that economic recovery is sustained.
It should also be noted that UWAC accepts contributions of any amount, even just a few dollars. And on a positive note, Luke noted the addition of 35 new contributors who have all pledged at least $250.
Luke and McGowan wish they had some better news to report on what has been another major source of donations: The payroll deduction program, which was down by around $7,000 for 2015. This has provided an avenue through which workers at participating businesses can have a small sum deducted from their regular paychecks to give to UWAC.
McGowan and her colleagues contacted 38 businesses last year to gauge their interest in the payroll deduction program. Nineteen agreed to participate, including usual stalwarts Middlebury College and Porter Medical Center. And McGowan was pleased to note that UTC Aerospace in Vergennes also embraced the program in a big way this year, boosting its contribution by around $10,000.
“Middlebury College (contributions) are down right now, but still a really big part of our campaign,” McGowan said of the county’s largest employer.
Looking ahead, McGowan and Luke said the United Way would broaden its strategy in an effort to maximize donations. That will mean, among other things, becoming better acquainted with the next generation of contributors and providing a detailed explanation of how the donated dollars are spent.
“When we can get in front of folks and tell them our story, the giving goes up,” McGowan said of her first-hand experience.
Plans also call for UWAC to update its presence online and on mobile phones. In the “old” days, people mailed or presented a check to the United Way. Now, people can give in around a dozen different ways — including by texting a donation.
United Way officials and board members will soon turn their attention to making allocations to UWAC’s funded agencies — including WomenSafe, Hospice Volunteer Services, Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, and the Addison County Community Trust. McGowan hopes UWAC’s grant allocations won’t have to be pared back substantially due to lagging contributions.
“(The grantees) get enough cuts from other places, they don’t need to get that from us, too,” McGowan said.
More information about the UWAC fund drive can be found at unitedwayaddisoncounty.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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