The downturn in the economy is affecting United Way of Dane County in two ways: The needs it is trying to address are greater, and its resources for doing so are less.
This year the umbrella group's fundraising goal is $16,650,000, the same as for 2008.
"We were cautious and respectful that some of our donors might need our help this year," says Leslie Ann Howard, the group's president. "It's not a matter of going backwards - we are moving forward, and we will all work hard to ensure that the $16,650,000 goal is exceeded."
During a May economic summit for United Way agencies, participants were asked to prepare for the possibility that donations could be down this year. The agencies discussed ways they could collaborate to trim overhead costs, such as saving on back-office administration, sharing building services and bidding out projects. And United Way itself has cut back, eliminating two open positions.
"If donations are down, there would be less money to spread around, but we won't be doing across-the-board cuts," says Howard. "We would continue to support programs, but with less funding."
The area's other umbrella group, Community Shares, is also setting this year's goal at $1 million, the same as last year.
"It's a challenging economic time, but also a time of extraordinary possibility for change," says Crystel Anders, executive director. "Workplace campaigns offer those of us still employed the chance to...support sustainable alternatives, help transform our community and build a more equitable future."
While United Way's fundraising campaign extends to Nov. 19, some participants have already finished their pledge drives.
Jewish Social Services, for instance, completed its campaign early in order to avoid the Jewish High Holy Days. Tom Kuplic, director of communications and community engagement for United Way of Dane County, says the organization posted a 15% increase over its goal.
There are other hopeful signs.
More than 2,800 volunteers, a 20% increase over last year's record number, participated in volunteer projects during the group's 17th annual Days of Caring. Over the course of three days in late August, groups of volunteers helped build interactive Born Learning Trails in 15 parks throughout Dane County.
And individual workplaces are coming up with imaginative ways to contribute to the United Way.
"We found out that companies were willing to be very creative in coming up with events that invite the employees to participate in silent auctions, food events, tricycle races and denim days," says Kuplic.
One of the most inventive ideas, the kiss a pig contest (lipstick optional!), will be held Oct. 6 at the Omega School, which provides individualized instruction to help young people earn high school equivalency diplomas. Students, staff and family will pay $1 to watch principal and executive director Oscar Mireles kiss a small pig on loan from a local farm.
"We hope to raise a couple hundred dollars for United Way, which will be combined with the funds raised by the staff of Omega School," says Mireles. "Last year, the staff had 100% participation, and we decided to increase our contribution by holding a special event. [Such events] remind us that we are part of the larger community promoting positive change in Dane County."
An agenda for change
In 2002, United Way of Dane County adopted an Agenda for Change, with seven areas: education, children, health, housing, independence, safety and volunteers.
For 2009, these translate into seven active goals:
- Students of color achieve at the same rate as white students.
- Children are cared for and have fun as they become prepared for school.
- People who are uninsured have access to health care.
- There is a decrease in homelessness.
- Seniors and people with disabilities are able to stay in their homes.
- There is a reduction in violence toward individuals and families.
- Non-profit agencies and volunteers are strong partners in achieving measurable results.