United Way nears end of its fund drive

MIDDLEBURY — United Way of Addison County (UWAC) officials have raised $541,000 toward a 2018 fundraising goal of $660,000, a summit they’ll work tirelessly to reach before the books close on the campaign on June 30.
The Independent reached out this week to UWAC Executive Director Helena Van Vorst and Amy Bodette Barr, the organization’s manager of development and marketing, for an update on a 2018 fund drive that began last September. While there’s more to raise, Van Vorst and Barr believe they have good cause for optimism.
First, they pointed to past giving trends indicating another $85,000 could soon pour into the campaign coffers from such sources as other United Ways whose contributors have targeted Addison County, such as county residents who work elsewhere but earmark their donations for their local United Way. If that $85,000 comes through as expected, that would leave around $34,000 to raise.
Second, they confirmed a longtime UWAC supporter — who wishes to remain anonymous — has pledged to match, dollar for dollar, campaign contributions up to $10,000 made between June 10 and 14. A $20,000 harvest during that match period would go a long way toward covering the remaining $34,000.
“We’re hoping that will create some end-of-year energy and excitement,” Van Vorst said.
The UWAC, in its 50th year, employs a variety of strategies — including soliciting individual donations and inviting businesses to offer payroll deduction plans — to meet an annual fundraising goal set by staff and the United Way Board. That money, minus expenses, is distributed to local nonprofit agencies providing food, shelter, counseling, education and other vital services to low-income residents.
The community has raised and re-invested more than $17 million back into Addison County through the UWAC during its 50 years.
But times have changed for the United Way and other major philanthropic organizations. Folks now have many charitable causes — local, national and international — in which to invest, often through the tap of a keyboard.
That means the UWAC must work harder to shine a light on local needs, and it’s been doing that, now with a new staff headed by Van Vorst. She and her colleagues will spend the next two months reaching out to past donors who haven’t yet made a contribution, as well as prospective new contributors.
United Way officials are also considering new strategies to maximize gifts. The organization recently completed a five-year strategic plan aimed at honing its mission and outreach efforts. New strategies, according to Van Vorst and Barr, will include making more personal appeals to prospective donors and encouraging supporters to suggest United Way giving to their friends and neighbors through word-of-mouth and social media.
Asked where the 2018 campaign lost ground this year, Barr cited the payroll deduction campaign. The UWAC has seen eroding support from folks willing to have a small slice of their salary automatically deducted for United Way charities.
Barr said payroll deduction plans tend to get a better following with large businesses — and there aren’t a lot of those in Addison County outside of Porter Hospital, Middlebury College and Collins Aerospace.
“We’re looking at ways to help smaller businesses support us in the future,” Barr said.
Here are some other things the UWAC will be doing in the coming months:
•Launching a new UWAC website in July with new content, including more video testimonials from local residents who benefit from the United Way and its partner nonprofits.
“We’re very excited to be talking about what’s working, and the impact we’re having on people’s lives,” Van Vorst said. “We’ve heard that we need to tell (clients’) stories more often.”
•Authoring a regular e-newsletter to bring supporters up to date on the organization’s activities.
•Expanding the “United at Work” program, which works with employees of local businesses when they are in crisis situations. The program helps workers in crisis stabilize their lives so they can resolve problems and keep their jobs.
“We see it as a workforce development and training program, and we’re hearing a great need for that from many of our partners,” Van Vorst said.
• Fortifying the United Way’s substance abuse prevention programs, particularly those targeting youth. The 10-week Heroin Epidemic Learning Program (HELP) has proven very successful in local high schools. Coordinated by UWAC Regional Prevention Partnership Coordinator Jesse Brooks, the HELP program has served 88 teens this year at Mount Abraham Union High School and the Patricia Hannaford Career Center.
•Making it easier for people to give in many ways, including online and via cell phone.
•Partnering with the Addison County Chamber of Commerce to develop an “emerging leaders of Addison County group” that targets the under-40 demographic.
“We see that as a way to engage them in giving back to their community, learning about the issues that Addison County is facing, while giving them an opportunity to network and have fun and be engaged with both the chamber and the United Way in a more active way,” Van Vorst said. “I think this will help us reach a younger demographic of donors, volunteers and advocates.”
Anyone wishing to donate to the 2018 UWAC fund drive can do so by logging on to unitedwayaddisoncounty.org, or mail a check to UWAC, P.O. Box 555, Middlebury, Vt., 05753.
In other recent UWAC news, the organization awarded a combined total of  $111,301 in “Community Impact Funding” to 14 area nonprofits serving Addison County. Each year, the UWAC makes three-year grant commitments in the priority areas of health, education and financial stability. The focus of this year’s funding is on improving health outcomes in Addison County.
This year’s biggest recipients included the Open Door Clinic ($20,000), WomenSafe ($20,000), and John Graham Housing & Services ($12,771), all for health-related services.
The UWAC will be thanking the county’s many volunteers at a BBQ on Friday, May 17, from noon to 2 p.m., at the Residence at Otter Creek in Middlebury.
Jerrod Rushton will become president of the UWAB board this summer. He’s looking forward to it.
“This is an exciting time for UWAC,” he said. “We have new leadership, a new strategic plan, and an active and passionate board. I am proud to be associated with an organization that values and demonstrates such effective collaboration on all levels. It’s not too late to make a gift to the 2018 Campaign and help us reach our goal — gifts of every size make a huge impact in Addison County.” Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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