Down, but not out United Way raises 4 percent less

February 6, 2009
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A plea last fall from the Heart of West Michigan United Way for more donations helped to boost the total collected in the organization’s latest workplace campaign.

Campaign Chair Nancy Ayres, general manager of Flexco, said last week that the 2008-09 campaign total reached $13 million, a 4 percent drop from the previous year.

Even so, Ayres said United Way is happy with the community’s response. Some companies re-opened or extended their workplace campaigns for United Way, which gets much of its support through payroll deduction.

“I think we’re very pleased with the results of the annual campaign,” said Ayres, who turns over the campaign chair duties next week to Sean Welsh, regional president of National City Bank. “Based on the state of the economy and just the unstable nature of things right now, we’re very pleased at the community’s response in terms of stepping up.”

Other United Way organizations in Michigan have averaged a drop of 6.8 percent from last year, she added.

Still, the results may mean changes in the amounts United Way distributes for 116 programs at 51 nonprofit agencies, and its own programs, such as early childhood, the 211 help line and providing tax assistance, Ayres acknowledged. Last year, the agencies split $6.73 million, according to United Way’s audit dated in October. There also may be belt-tightening internally, she said.

“United Way is now in the process — now that we know what that dollar mount is — of making recommendation to the United Way board for their consideration,” she said. “Does that mean will there be cuts within United Way staff, trying to do some cost-cutting measures internally? Will there be adjustments made to the partner agencies?

“Now that we know what the figure is, those decisions can move forward. It’s going to take a couple of months to work through the details in terms of what will that impact really meant to the community.”

The Heart of West Michigan United Way is moving toward a development program that adds personal contact with donors to the annual workplace campaign. Layoffs and job-hopping habits, as well as retirement, make it tougher for United Way to maintain contact with individual donors.

Ayres said she will continue to lead a committee assigned to oversee that three-year transition.

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