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United Way sets “realistic” $2-million campaign target

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Cathy Dobson
Dave Brown has a unique perspective on the United Way’s $2-million campaign goal.
“This is the highest goal we’ve ever set. The truth is we could have set it even higher. It could have been $2.5 million from a needs standpoint, but the reality is we have to merge what we need with what is realistic to raise,” the executive director said.
“Need increases in our community every year but we have to keep in mind so many factors, such as global disasters (like the Fort McMurray fire) that take donor resources, lower corporate revenues, and higher utility prices like Hydro that impact individual donors.”
Brown has worked for the United Way of Sarnia-Lambton for 31 years, 27 of those as executive director. He heads up the area’s largest annual fundraising campaign.
“Our campaign goal was $1.3 million the first year I was on staff,” he said. “And last year, we surpassed our $1.95 million objective.”
That’s how much more funding United Way agencies have required. That’s how much more generous local residents have been over the years.
While the campaign has hit or surpassed target each of the past 20 years there were lean times in the early ‘90s when it fell short, Brown remembers.
“That’s when we knew we had to change direction, pull out of most special events and focus on employee campaigns,” he said.
One year, in 1994, a monetary goal wasn’t even set for the campaign. Instead, the United Way set a donor goal to put the emphasis on each individual donation. It worked.
“The result was that people realized that their donation matters no matter how small it is,” Brown said. “Five dollars may not seem like a lot in a campaign this large but a lot of individual $5 donations add up.”
The campaign began attracting more first-time donors.
Not only did last year’s campaign surpass its goal, it hit the $2 million mark with more than 4,000 donors. In particular, businesses and retirees really stepped up.
Now, as the kickoff to the 60th campaign approaches, volunteer campaign chair Richard Kelch says employee and corporate donations continue to be critical for success, but a focus will be put on new donors and new employee campaigns.
“Our community has a wonderful tradition of helping those in need,” Kelch said. “I’m hopeful we will see that great level of support again this year.
“It’s a hard reality, but each year we see an increasing demand for all of the programs and services.”
The campaign officially kicks off on Sept. 13 with the Day of Caring, but several thousand letters have already been mailed to retirees, professionals, businesses and other local residents.
The United Way of Sarnia-Lambton funds 20 agencies that in turn provide 37 programs and services impacting the lives of thousands of residents.

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