Golf Outings, Dinners Find Place Alongside United Way Campaigns

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – From a chance at a new car to winning a horse race, giving to the United Way has changed since the days of simple workplace donations.

“The original model for United Way, almost 100 years ago, was workplace giving and that was it,” says Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, noting that workplace campaigns generate about 50% of his chapter’s revenue. That figure was around 75% 25 years ago, he says.

“We had to find other ways to generate revenue to meet our goals,” Hannon says. “But employers allowing us to come in to talk to employees and giving through payroll deduction is still the largest sector of giving to the United Way.”

Today, activities such as golf outings, evenings at the casino and community cleanup days such as Day of Caring play an increasingly larger role in helping the United Way agencies meet their campaign goals.

In Mercer County, volunteers turn out for the Day of Caring Oct. 24 to give their time and labor, doing yard work and cleaning up neighborhoods. Over the course of the year, First National Bank, Synergy Comp Insurance and Wheatland Tube Co. are the three of the largest donors for the Mercer County United Way.

Nicole Billak, project manager of Mercer County United Way’s Success By 6 program, says PNC Bank gave a $10,000 grant for the Mercer County Early Childhood Celebration. The event brings together community partners involved in prevention programs and early-childhood education to provide information on literacy and math skills programs.

Volunteers in northern Columbiana County go door-to-door collecting donations to supplement two mail campaigns of 5,000 donation packets each for the fall fundraising drive.

George Hays, executive director of United Way Services of Northern Columbiana County, says tickets are being sold for the Downtown Dining Experience Sept. 25, held in partnership with the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, which features a raffle for a diamond necklace.

The logistics of coordinating events and reaching possible donors is also evolving with the way society communicates.

“Most people no longer get their information through print media,” Hays says. “We need to do it electronically.”

To expand its digital footprint, the Columbiana chapter is partnering with MobileCause, a software provider that enables supporters to connect with organizations from online devices anywhere at any time.

“People work differently today. They work from home and they may not get a pledge form. A lot of companies now do an online platform that’s much more effective,” Hannon adds.

Getting the word out about the United Way in communities like East Liverpool takes a more grassroots approach to communications and funding.

“We are at the festivals and we are getting more exposure, but I think that people don’t know about us due to the fact that we deal with things that aren’t talked about,” says Candy Bangor, executive director for the United Way of Southern Columbiana County. “We deal with senior citizens, food pantries and help with the really poor. The things we fund aren’t fun things people usually want to talk about.”

Fundraisers such as A Night at the Races, to be held Aug. 18 at the Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in neighboring Newell, West Virginia, add some fun to the giving process.

The event features screenings of archived race videos and participants can purchase sponsorships for individual horses in each video before the race starts, with the winner of the race taking home $50.

Giving to the agency totaled $95,000 last year, with Homer Laughlin China Co., Heritage WTI and Ergon among the biggest workplace campaigns.

The campaign season for the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley starts Sept. 7, on the 21st annual Day of Caring. Over 800 volunteers will be doing home repairs, painting, landscaping and installing smoke detectors in the Taft neighborhood in Youngstown.

During last year’s campaign, the Youngstown United Way raised $3.1 million, beating its $2.9 million goal.

In workplace campaigns, donations go from paycheck contributions to the designated United Way chapter, which then disburses funds to nonprofit agencies. After two years of funding, agencies receiving money have to reapply for support.

“We have local volunteers that look at the programs of those agencies with specific reporting requirements and make sure that they were doing the programming that donors expect,” says Stacia Erdos, vice president of strategic planning for the Youngstown United Way.

Several years ago, the agency altered how it provides funds, looking at increasing impact rather than just the amount disbursed. That shift, Erdos adds, has benefitted the workplace campaigns supporting Youngstown United Way.

“Where we once went to corporations with workplace campaigns to ask for volunteers, we now get the volunteers firsthand,” Erdos says. “They get knowledge of our work and that leads to additional donations and workplace campaigns.”

Roxann Sebest, director of marketing and communications for the Youngstown United Way, says Champions Among Us is the agency’s biggest fundraiser.

Sports celebrities like ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit and former NFL star Franco Harris have participated in the event that also features a VIP reception hosted by Hannon, formerly sports director at WYTV and the play-by-play announcer for the Youngstown State University football team.

Partner agencies include YWCA of Youngstown, Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mahoning Valley, Beatitude House and ACLD School and Learning Center.

Christine Cope, director of resource development and marketing for United Way of Trumbull County, says her agency uses phone calls, email, newsletters and personal presentations to reach donors.

“We inform them who our nonprofit partner agencies are as well as who we work with in the business community,” she says.

For workplace presentations, Hannon says representatives only have 10 or 15 minutes to deliver all the information they need, which makes donor participation in programs all the more important.

“The last thing we want to do is have anyone think we just show up once a year to ask for money,” he says. “Any time you can get someone inside spreading the word, it’s far more impactful. They see that one of their own believes in the mission. When that happens, we see a spike in giving.”

Trumbull United Way begins its annual campaign Aug. 24, meeting at the Eastwood Mall for the United Way at Work community cleanup day.

“Last year we had more than 200 volunteers and 27 companies to help out,” says Ginny Pasha, president and CEO of the Trumbull chapter. “We helped a widow in Liberty with a very large property she could not maintain. Her late husband was a member of the Air Force Reserve in Vienna and a retired police officer.”

Top workplace campaigns in Trumbull County include General Motors, 7 17 Credit Union, UPS, Ohio Edison and Mercy Health.

Trends in fundraising, such as raffles and celebrity appearances, draw public interest and can sometimes yield big payoffs.

For instance, Greenwood Chevrolet donated a Chevy Cruze to raffle off, Pasha says. Individuals who donate $260 or more are eligible to win, with 10 donors selected for the final drawing at the Austintown dealership.

Keeping the public trust is vital for nonprofits like the United Way so that the public will continue to volunteer time and donate funds. Policing nonprofit activity for fraud is always a concern for donors regardless of the size of the donation.

For three years in a row, the national watchdog group Charity Navigator has ranked the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley with four stars, its highest rating. The agency was graded on transparency, financial responsibility and how money was used in programming.

In 2017, the United Way of Trumbull County earned the Platinum Nonprofit Profile Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.

Pasha says that gauges the amount of trust donors have in the agency. This is accomplished through surveys, the most recent of which last year found 96% of respondents in Trumbull County trusted the United Way.

“We are accountable to United Way Worldwide,” says Gale Young, executive director of United Way of Lawrence County. “We just received our membership certification. Volunteers are used to allocate our dollars to the member agencies. … All of this is overseen by volunteers.”

The chapter begins its campaign season with its Day of Caring Sept. 6 at Cascade Park in New Castle. The organization raised $450,000 during its 2017 campaign.

Pictured: Bob Hannon, president of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, sees a correlation between donating and volunteering.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.