Leaders of the local United Way are hoping the giving season won’t be over as Christmas comes and goes.
The top fundraising official with the United Way of Douglas County confirmed Thursday the organization is still more than $700,000 short of its annual fundraising goal.
Colleen Gregoire, United Way vice president and campaign manager, said the United Way was in the process of sending out a special appeal to area businesses asking them to help generate publicity for the need for more donations.
“We’re hoping businesses will be able to put a message on their marquee signs or something like that,” Gregoire said. “We need to remind folks that we still have a ways to go.”
The organization announced in early December that the United Way fundraising drive was about $900,000 short of its $1.8 million goal. On Thursday, Gregoire said donations had grown to almost $1.1 million.
“We’re so grateful for the generosity that our donors and volunteers have shown so far,” Gregoire said. “We’re just still going after that final goal.”
Officially, the annual fundraising campaign ended on Dec. 7, but United Way leaders extended the time period for soliciting donations. Gregoire said the United Way needs to have a good handle on how much money it will have for 2013 by mid-February.
The organization provides funding for 29 social service agencies throughout the county, ranging from the American Red Cross to the Girl Scouts to Willow Domestic Violence Center. The United Way will make the first round of funding disbursements in late January. Other disbursements are scheduled for late February and late March.
Gregoire said the United Way’s Board of Directors would need to make a decision about whether it wants to dip into the organization's reserve funds to help make up the shortfall.
“We would have to go beyond our stated policy and dig deeper into our reserves in order to fund the agencies at the level we have promised,” Gregoire said.
United Way officials expect donations to continue to come in between now and February to reduce the $700,000 shortfall. Gregoire said some large corporations have not yet finalized their pledges. She said the local United Way also generally receives a significant amount of funding from other area United Way organizations because Douglas County commuters make pledges in their workplace communities but direct the dollars to go to Douglas County.
Predicting how much money will come in during those times, however, is difficult. Gregoire said her books show that this year’s fundraising effort is at least $100,000 behind last year’s campaign, which raised $1.7 million.
This year’s campaign team — which was led by Baldwin City businesswoman Becki Dick — decided to up the goal to $1.8 million, which would be the most money ever raised by the local United Way.
Gregoire on Thursday said she couldn’t point to any one area where donations were falling short. Previously, United Way officials said donations sometimes do slow down during presidential election years when uncertainty about future economic conditions tend to rise.
This year also marks the first one since the United Way began using a three-year plan that restructures how it allocates its funding to agencies.
The United Way has created three broad community goals: education, self-sufficiency and health care. Participating social service agencies are being required to show how their mission fits into at least one of the three goals, and then commit to collaborate with the other agencies in their goal group.
When the United Way used the plan earlier this year to allocate funding for agencies, some organizations saw a dramatic dip in United Way funding and had to make mid-year budget adjustments as a result.
Gregoire previously said some of the decline in donations is probably attributable to questions donors have about the new funding philosophy. But United Way leaders have stood behind the new plan as a way to promote better cooperation and efficiency at the local agencies.
Local social service agency leaders said they were struggling to understand why the donations were coming in slower this year.
“It has been hard to put your finger on,” said Joan Schultz, executive director of Willow Domestic Violence Center. “Lawrence is a very giving community, and it supports social services. But we are getting concerned about the United Way situation.”
Schultz said the United Way funding often has outsized importance in an agency’s budget. Willow, for example, receives about $40,000 of its $700,000 budget from the United Way. But Schultz said that $40,000 often is used as matching funds for federal or state grants.
“It is an important way that we leverage other funds from state and federal grants,” Schultz said.
People interested in donating to the United Way can call the organization’s headquarters at 843-6626, or can donate online at www.unitedwaydgco.org.