As United Way launches new campaign, agency leader wants to focus on communication, not numbers

photo by: Kathy Hanks

Jeffrey Cornish, president and CEO of the United Way of Douglas County, speaks during the agency's new campaign launch on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019, at the United Way headquarters, 2518 Ridge Court.

No oversized thermometer will be measuring the rise in donations during the United Way of Douglas County’s campaign this year, said Jeffrey Cornish, the agency’s president and CEO.

“We are not setting a number goal because we want to focus on communicating the purpose of the United Way,” said Cornish, who was launching his first campaign since taking over leadership of the organization March 9.

Instead of setting a specific dollar amount that the United Way hopes to raise and give to agencies in the county, Cornish said the organization was going to spend time letting people know what the local United Way does and the value it brings to the community.

Cornish spoke to the Journal-World following the agency’s 2019 campaign launch Tuesday morning at its office at 2518 Ridge Court.

“It’s not a numbers game; it’s a communications game,” Cornish said. “It’s something we decided to do to be able to refocus the agency and get our message out to people so they understand what we are all about.”

Cornish, who filled the position left vacant when Jannette Taylor stepped down on Dec. 31, 2018, acknowledged that not setting a financial goal broke with how the agency had handled its annual campaign in the past. But he added that the agency wanted to get away from people thinking of it as just a fundraiser.

“In a lot of people’s minds, they think all we are going to do is ask for money,” Cornish said.

“What is it the United Way brings to make life better in Douglas County?” Cornish said. This year the agency will focus on communicating answers to that question.

After a slow start, during the last campaign, United Way did reach its goal of $1.5 million. Cornish said it took a lot of hard work and meetings with lots of people.

Something new this year will be the ability to text a donation using the number 41444 in the “to” field, then texting united4dgco in the message field. Cornish hopes the convenience of texting will appeal to millennials.

Representing the Lawrence City Commission Tuesday, Mayor Lisa Larsen told the audience that the money the local United Way raised was paramount in providing the most basic needs to so many lives.

“Government cannot be the Super Glue to fix everything,” Larsen said, citing the importance of supporting the United Way workplace fundraising partnership.

Every guest at the launch was given a box with a small plant donated by Clinton Parkway Nursery.

“These are challenge boxes,” said Chelle Decker, the United Way’s director of resource development.

The purpose of the box is to challenge people to think of ways to help the community grow and blossom. Along with a plant in the box and donation card, there were two note cards created by Kansas Poet Laureate Huascar Medina. One of the cards read, “For a community to blossom every citizen must garden.”


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