Local United Way to create new endowment fund

MIDDLEBURY — You do the same thing for 50 years and you can get into a rut.
Unless you’re the United Way of Addison County (UWAC), which is marking its 50th birthday with a new fund drive, some new program priorities and a new philanthropic game plan for the next half-century.
“We look back with gratitude to those who envisioned, established, sustained and grew this organization and those who rooted us in the ideals of community, collective action and mutual care,” UWAC Executive Director Kate McGowan said of the history of her non-profit organization, which began back in 1967 as “Community Chest” and changed its name to the United Way in 1969.
At the same time, McGowan noted the importance for United Way officials to “recommit ourselves to adapting to a changing world, responding to local needs and inviting participation in the work of improving lives and strengthening community.”
To that end, UWAC is not only mounting its traditional, annual fund drive — with a goal this year of $650,000 — it is embarking on a separate, simultaneous effort to establish an endowment fund to give the organization’s long-term philanthropic mission more stability. UWAC each year raises money to support a variety of Addison County social services agencies that provide critical housing, child care, counseling, nutrition, education and other services to those in need.
The so-called “Legacy Society” endowment fund will be built on 50 independent gifts of more than $1,000 that UWAC will solicit from various community members during the coming months. McGowan and Nancy Luke, marketing and development director for UWAC, are hoping the Legacy Society fund drive will yield $2 million to $3 million, in the form of charitable annuities and cash contributions.
Once established, the Legacy Society money would be combined with an existing $1.1 million UWAC endowment fund. That pot of money, according to McGowan, would be invested and generate income that could help bridge shortfalls in future United Way fund drives. UWAC slightly exceeded its 2016 fund raising goal, but had missed the mark for several years prior due to the economy, competing charities and the relocation/death of some of its most loyal contributors. United Way organizers reasoned the endowment fund could provide some insurance against future campaign deficits, thus providing a more resilient pipeline of financial support to United Way-supported agencies.
The Middlebury-based Vermont Community Foundation is partnering with UWAC on the endowment fund effort.
“It provides some sustainability and wiggle room, and flexibility to respond when the going gets tough,” McGowan said of the Legacy Society, which will be spearheaded by a steering committee containing Addison County residents with strong ties to the United Way. They include the organization’s first paid director — former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas — along with United Way stalwarts Roth “T” Tall and Spence Putnam.
It’s a committee that McGowan said will grow to 15-20 members, who will canvass the community for 50 significant Legacy Society donations. Luke’s goal is to wrap up the endowment fundraising by the beginning of next June.
In any other year, United Way of Addison County would name some citizen co-chairs for its annual fund drive.
But this is the organization’s 50 anniversary, so it’s not going to be business as usual. There will be no campaign co-chairs, and staff will ask prospective donors to consider giving to three specific local causes:
•  The Heroin Epidemic Learning Program (HELP) that delivers drug abuse prevention education to students at Addison County high schools.
•  A “workforce resource coordinator” that helps employees at area businesses find the ancillary services they need — such as child care and/or transportation — to be able to stay in their jobs. The resource coordinator currently works on a fee-for-service basis with Porter Medical Center and Middlebury College employees. The United Way wants to provide subsidies to workers at other businesses to use the resource coordinator’s services.
•  Creation of an Addison County Mentoring Collaborative to help give direction to scores of local youth who are not in school, nor in the workforce.
“It is a three-pronged effort,” Luke said of the initiatives, for which the United Way wants to raise a combined total of $50,000. That $50,000 will count as part of the $650,000 campaign goal for 2017, but those funds will be segregated for the three programs.
Touting specific causes, Luke believes, might encourage new donors to come forward.
And here’s another change for the 2017 campaign: New donation categories.
UWAC accepts donations of any size, and until recently divided its three, higher-end categories of giving into Leadership Society ($1,000-$1,249), Robert Frost Society ($1,250-$9,999) and Alex de Tocqueville Society ($10,000 to $25,000).
Folks can now give at levels that playfully correspond to the height of area mountains. There are six “leadership circle” categories of giving, ranging from Mt. Abraham ($1,000 to $1,249) to Mt. Mansfield ($7,500 to $9,999). Still, de Tocqueville ($10,000 and higher) remains the highest “peak” of giving. And officials stressed people can continue to give in any amount they choose; no amount is too little.
As usual, UWAC will officially kick off the campaign with its annual Days of Caring (Sept. 21 and 23) through which participating local businesses will loan their employees to help out at nonprofits supported by United Way.
A list of 2017 campaign events and details on how to contribute can be found at unitedwayaddisoncounty.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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