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Agency hoping it didn't fall off fiscal cliff

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Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2013 7:56 pm

FLORENCE – Each year the United Way of Florence County helps change thousands of lives through its 18 partner agencies around the region, but the organization is limited in what it can accomplish by the amount of donations it receives.

The “fiscal cliff” and the cloud of economic uncertainity it has created has not helped this year’s campaign.

“The impending fiscal cliff had some impact, no question,” said United Way President E.J. Newby. “The people who I’ve called on recently are business people and they watch their contributions very closely and of course they were very much attuned to the fiscal cliff and what was going on in Congress. There’s no question that had something to do with it. So things have been delayed a bit, but I’m still optimistic.”

At current projections, the United Way is facing a shortfall of at least $100,000 in meeting its goal of $1.23 million before the campaign wraps up on April 15.

Vice President of Campaigns Wendy Bird has been with the United Way for 18 years and has become somewhat of an expert at predicting how well the campaign will succeed each year. She agrees that the economy and fiscal talks in Congress have affected people’s ability to give.

“They ask me every year to make projections based off of past donations and what I’ve been told by companies,” Bird said. “Even with my projections we are going to fall short of our goal this year unless we make an appeal to the community. It’s very important to realize that, yes, all of these things have impacted the chances of the United Way reaching its goal this year, but the reason it’s so important to give is because your donation is going out to multiple places to help people who are struggling because of these exact things.”

The United Way’s purpose each year is to take the donations it receives and spread them out to 18 partner agencies that provide unique services to the community. The proceeds support causes from helping abused children and the disabled to eradicating illiteracy and hunger.

The primary source of funding for the United Way’s annual goal comes through mini-campaigns that are run by area businesses that encourage their employees to contribute by providing incentives and tools, such as payroll deduction.

Each partner agency receiving money is required to meet very strict criteria and must be re-evaluated every three years. The agencies are held accountable by a Community Investment Committee (CIC), which is separate from the United Way Board of Directors.

The CIC listens to recommendations from the agencies on what mission they hope to accomplish and then makes a decision on how much money each organization receives based off of its needs and the amount the United Way has earned through donations by the end of its campaign.

This year that amount could be lower than it has in the past if the United Way does not meet its goal.

Joey Edwards, director of the Pee Dee Area Big Brothers Association, a United Way partner agency, said the donations it receives through the United Way allow his organization to change the lives of children who come from broken homes and have no male role model in their lives. However, the Big Brothers association is limited in what it can accomplish depending on how much it receives from the United Way and other donors.

“Without their support and the support of other donors and agencies in the region, we wouldn’t be able to operate this agency,” Edwards said. “The United Way makes a big difference in the support they give. There’s no telling how many thousands of lives they’ve impacted because of the support they give to these partner agencies.”

Bird said that the funding the United Way contributes to the partner agencies allows the agencies the ability to make a larger impact on those they are trying to help, not just through funds but also through time.

“Most of them are small-staffed,” Bird said of the partner agencies. “They sure couldn’t dedicate the time to raise all the money that they need. I know a lot of our agencies - we don’t fund 100 percent of their budget, but we raise a good chunk of their money where they get to spend less time out working for it and are able to spend more time doing what they do best, which is meeting the needs.”

After 18 years of going into businesses and helping with their campaigns, Bird said that the most impactful thing a company can do to reach their employees on behalf of United Way is to show the annual video that the organization puts together that highlights their impact on the community.

“When you can take six minutes like in our video and expand on individual stories and show people what their money is going to do for people then it makes a huge difference,” Bird said. “It brings it in front of them. It’s not just, ‘I’m coming to beg for money – I’m here with a purpose.’”

This year’s campaign and video revolve around the theme ‘Together We Grow.’ The video highlights two stories of individuals who were helped through two of the United Way’s partner agencies.

Angel Bess, a previous resident at the House of Hope, and Bradley McMunn, who participated in the Big Brother program and later went on to accept a position with the organization, were both chosen as examples of the powerful impact the partner agencies can make in a person’s life.

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