United Way fundraising campaign in full force

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 18, 2007

NATCHEZ — As United Way volunteers took to the streets earlier this week they had one goal in mind — get money.

On Tuesday the United Way conducted its Downtown Business Blitz, one of its biggest fundraising events.

And the group has some pretty lofty goals.

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United Way’s Natchez- area Director Kathy Stephens said the group wants to raise about $400,000.

“That’s a lot of money,” she said. “Last year we raised $300,000 and we can always use more.”

Stephens said that as of the middle of last week they had raised about $160,000.

“Right now things are going well,” she said.

And things need to go well, Stephens said, since the United Way is almost entirely donation funded.

The idea of a business blitz is still relatively new, though the group had one last year.

“This is something that we have to do,” she said.

And this year the blitz was a bit different.

United Way Board Chair Maria Bowser said the group placed a more direct focus on smaller businesses.

Bowser said that in past, smaller privately owned business were normally not thought of as major contributions.

But that has changed.

“We realized many of these businesses had never been asked to donate,” she said.

So Bowser asked, and she said the results have been great.

“Lots of people had the checks ready when we showed up,” she said. “That was great to see.”

And while Stephens and Bowser agreed that large businesses equipped to make employee payroll reductions provide most of their donations during blitz time, they are certainly pleased to include the smaller businesses.

However, the United Way’s solicitation technique is not the only thing that has changed.

Bowser said in the last few years the group has employed a more systemic approach to helping those in need solve their problems.

“We can’t just throw money at a problem,” she said. “That just will not fix anything.”

And up until a few years ago, money throwing was widely employed in the organization.

Stephens said the United Way now wants to look to the source of a problem, not just the symptoms.

“If someone cannot feed and clothe themselves we want to find out why,” she said. “If we can find out why they can’t provide for themselves we can help them more effectively.”

And now that the United Way has committed itself to solving problems, not just remedying them, the way they allocate their funding has changed.

“We need to looking into the future,” she said.

Stephens said that now instead of just giving money to an organization, the United Way is studying how the money is being spent by that organization.

“We want to spend what we have wisely,” she said.

Stephens said smarter spending means donors are more likely to give and groups are more likely to do more meaningful work.

In the Natchez-Adams County School District, the United Way is helping to fund a project that they hope will reach far into the future.

A two-year, $20,000 grant given to the district is going to help fund reading program that Stephens hopes will have long reaching ramifications.

Many large states, Stephens said, determine how many prisons will be needed in the coming years by the number of third-graders failing standardized reading tests in the state.

“That’s scary,” she said.

Media center coordinator for the Natchez-Adams District Sturleen Butler-Morris said the United Way’s funding is critical.

Morris also said it’s money well spent.

Morris said with an illiteracy rate around 35 percent in the county, the project certainly needs the funding.

But while the United Way’s funding is greatly benefiting some, others have lost their funding all together.

One of those groups is the Adams County Chapter of the American Red Cross, a national non-profit organization that provides health and disaster-related services.

Twenty-five percent of the Adams County Red Cross’s funding came from the United Way, Adams County Red Cross Director Angie Brown said.

“It has been difficult since we lost that funding but we have managed to keep our heads above water and continue to provide services to our clients,” she said.

But the Red Cross could really use some help right now, Brown said.

“Of course, the No. 1 need all non-profits have is funding,” she said. “We can always use people for volunteers, to help out with things other when disaster strikes.”

Top officials from the organizations have recently met to discuss future relationships, Brown said.

“Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Mark Everson met with United Way representatives to discuss partnerships in the future,” she said. “Historically, the two organizations have worked together and have had a long-standing relationship.”

The Adams County branch of the Red Cross will continue to work with the local United Way, Brown said.

“And when the time comes that we can re-apply for funding (from the United Way), we will do that,” she said.

But Stephens said that the United Way simply wants to spend wisely.

“We want to give a grant where it can have the most impact,” she said.

The United Way, in most instances writes grants for two years and then evaluates.

“Every two-years programs come on and drop off,” she said.