The public has spoken.  The 2013 United Way campaign has concluded and we have fallen short of our target of $2.2 Million – a number chosen to “close the gap” between what we were able to give our funded agencies in 2012 and what they needed to balance their budgets.

 While this is sad news indeed, there are always silver linings that can be found in storm clouds.  On the surface, it would appear that the usual explanations – a downed economy, competition from other charitable organizations and decisions to “go a different route this year” can provide a reasonable justification for this year’s result.  But internally, we believe that the major reason why we didn’t achieve the number we were going after, is because we didn’t do a good enough job of telling our story – a story about how lives are changed because of the contributions people make to our organization.  We tried.  We really did.  But perhaps we didn’t try hard enough.  With very limited resources, we targeted new companies to encourage their employees to give, we talked with our traditional corporate partners to ask for help in increasing employee participation, we provided “Seeing is Believing” Tours and excellent training sessions for campaign volunteers and employee workplace co-ordinators … and we tried to dispel myths and misconceptions about administration and fund-raising costs – also referred to as “overhead”. 

So what went wrong, you say?  We have to be honest.  Nobody loves it as much as we do.  Some people didn’t return our telephone calls.  Others said that they were going to help us – but didn’t follow through.  Others listened to naysayers, used what they heard as an excuse not to give – and took their support (or did they?) in another direction.  

Robert Kennedy once said, “One fifth of the people are against everything all of the time.”  We get that.  And we believe it.  We can prove it by the numbers.  

While we are disappointed with this year’s result, I want to acknowledge and express a heartfelt “thanks” to those who did support us this year.  We couldn’t have done it without you.  You know who you are.  So … “thanks” to those who maintained their level of support or increased their gifts.  Without you we would be even farther in the hole than we are. 

 But what about some of the people who were there for us last year – and I’m speaking specifically of those who are still working – in good paying jobs?  Where did you go?  Why did we lose you?  Will you tell us why?  So we can fix it for next year? 

So what happens now.  Well … the agencies we fund don’t have enough money to do the work they need to do.  Our fund-distribution volunteers will be reviewing the agency budgets in the next few weeks and deliberating on how much to give each of our family members.  I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes.  Some agencies will have to make tough decisions about reducing – or abandoning entirely – specific programs. Others may choose to invest more time in fund-raising to pick up the slack. Still others may choose to leave the United Way family and “go it alone”.  Abandoning specific programs leaves people without the services they need.  Hiring fund-raisers and/or redeploying existing staff from program delivery to revenue generation – creates further competition.  In addition to the foregoing, those that need the social safety net to cope with unemployment, mental health and addictions, poverty and family breakdown may have fewer choices available to them. 

So what can you do to help?  If you have been a donor to United Way in the past – please give again and consider an increase.  If you know someone who has a misconception about United Way, tell us so that we can clear it up.  If you are a traditional supporter to our cause, please tell others why you give – and encourage them to join you.  And you don’t need to wait until the kick-off of the 2014 United Way Campaign.  Please do it now!  People are waiting for you to care.

On a related note, I recently read Dan Pallotta’s newest book “Charity Case” and have shared excerpts from that book with our Board of Directors and Staff.  For those of you who haven’t read it, I encourage you to order a copy and take the time to read it.  It will change the way you think about charitable giving and give you some food for thought.  And … in the coming weeks and months, I’ll be sharing with you – through this medium – our plans for reintroducing a new United Way to our community – one that focuses on the important role that we in the humanitarian sector play in building community and achieving well-being for everyone in Chatham-Kent.

 

Karen Kirkwood-Whyte, CEO/Executive Director