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Published: 9/1/2009

United Way seeking record $17.9M to meet region's increasing needs

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The United Way of Greater Toledo will announce tomorrow its most ambitious fund-raising goal in the organization's history - $17.9 million.

Organizers of the 2009 campaign know they are in for a fight, said Richard Hylant, campaign chairman and regional vice president of the Toledo insurance brokerage Hylant Group.

"There are literally people who gave money last year who are asking the United Way for help," Mr. Hylant said. "It would be better to do this in better economic conditions, but frankly, this is when people need it the most."

The campaign raised $13.5 million last year, short of the agency's $15 million goal. The 2007 efforts brought in about $14.5 million, with the same $15 million goal.

The highest fund-raising year was 1999, when the agency pulled in $15,013,632.

Traditionally, the United Way's financial goal is shaped around the previous year's campaign results.

Officials said the agency chose to reach beyond the formula because the economic crisis created a greater need in northwest Ohio.

In July, the unemployment rate reached 15.4 percent in Toledo, 14.4 percent in Lucas County, 12.8 in Wood County, and 13.7 in Ottawa County.

Calls to the agency's 211 hot line increased by about 22 percent since last year, with about 66,569 calls between July, 2008, and June, 2009, in Lucas, Wood, Erie, Ottawa and Hancock counties.

Campaign organizers are confident that individuals will recognize faces in those numbers and hope donors will funnel financial help through the United Way.

"This is one of those years that it's not about faceless, nameless people," said Bill Kitson, chairman and chief executive officer of the United Way of Great Toledo. "This year, it's your neighbor, it's your friend. You don't have 15 percent unemployment rates and not have it impact everybody."

About 30,000 individual donors contributed to the campaign last year, or nearly 5 percent of the 606,600 population in Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties represented by United Way of Greater Toledo.

"But, man, if we could bring that 5 percent to 10 percent, we could really influence change in our community and make a tremendous impact," Mr. Kitson said.

Corporate giving will be the cornerstone of the campaign, Mr. Kitson said.

The campaign will look to nonprofits, hospitals, universities, and government organizations to boost their employee giving, because so many Toledo-area corporations are suffering financially.

"It's a different environment," Mr. Kitson said. "We have to be that much smarter."

The United Way is also going on the defensive by trying to distance itself from the recent criticism of one of its partner agencies - the YMCA & JCC of Greater Toledo.

The United Way posted a statement on its Web site to deflect any questions about its financial connections to the YMCA, which has been hit with charges of overpaying its top executives, including the more than $630,000 a year in compensation for Y President and CEO Robert Alexander and several members of his family, who also hold executive posts with the Toledo YMCA.

A group of South Toledo residents and Y members, as well as several local politicians, have criticized the YMCA for proposing to close the popular South Toledo Y branch because it is running an annual operating deficit.

The sharpest criticism has focused on the salaries and benefits paid to Mr. Alexander, his wife, daughter, and daughter-in-law, and because YMCA officials have repeatedly refused to make public records of the Y's credit card and travel spending.

The United Way's Web posting states that it contributed $350,000 to programs run by the YMCA last year, which represents about 1 percent of the Y's total $29.8 million budget.

"In light of recent media coverage of the YMCA/JCC of Greater Toledo, we thought it was important to make sure you (our faithful donors!) know the specifics of how we invest in the YMCA," the online statement reads. "United Way funds specific programs, not agencies."

Many other United Way branches in Ohio and Michigan are leaning toward modest goals because the economic crisis has siphoned donations.

United Way Summit County is asking for $11.3 million this year, which is what it raised last year, when its goal was $11.6 million.

"We just realize in this current economy, it's going to be a very successful campaign if we can just maintain that level," said Michael Gaffney, vice president of marketing. The agency covers a population of about 550,000 near Akron.

United Way Dayton, which serves a population of about 733,000 in three southwestern Ohio counties, collected $9.5 million of its $12 million goal last year.

The agency will announce a new, similar campaign goal later this month, said Jayne Klose, senior vice president of marketing.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., Heart of West Michigan United Way has stopped setting campaign goals, said Michael De Meyer, vice president of strategic marketing and donor relations.

The Grand Rapids agency complies with a recommendation the United Way of America first made to local agencies seven years ago, that they do away with campaign goals and instead report "community impact," or the total money they infuse into their community, United Way of America spokesman Sally Fabens said.

Last year, the goal-free campaign brought $13.2 million to that United Way, down about 4 percent from the previous year, Mr. De Meyer said.

The agency covers a population of about 605,000.

The United Way of Monroe County, which began its annual campaign July 28, has set a $1.2 million fund-raising goal.

The agency last year came $85,305 short of making its $1,225,000 goal.

Connie Carroll, executive director, said the board of directors set the lower goal because of problems in making the 2008 goal and the economic woes of the county and Michigan.

"The economy is worse this year than it was last year," she said.

"For that reason, we felt this year's goal was sufficient and we would have a chance of making it."

Staff writer Mark Reiter contributed to this story.

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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