Agency renews call for giving due to community’s growing needs
By Claire Aiello
Vice President of Marketing & Communications
Huntsville/Madison County Chamber
This article appears in the August 2018 issue of Initiatives magazine.
This year, United Way of Madison County marks 75 years since its founding. Its mission is to identify the health and human service needs in Madison County, Alabama and work with donors, volunteers and collaborative partners to develop and implement effective strategies and solutions.
A group of community leaders founded the local organization in 1943 as a Community Chest. “They said, if we raise some money, we can help our non-profits be able to work a little more and not have to spend so much time fundraising,” said Cathy Miller, Community Impact Director. “That’s the core. So, when United Way of America was formed this group of local community advocates saw a natural match.”
The organization became a United Way affiliate in 1971. “That change didn’t make us less local, though. We will always be dedicated to our community,” Miller emphasized. “We are the United Way of Madison County, so that’s a great assurance for people that the last 75 years, people have been giving and been able to see and touch where their money goes, and hear stories about how their dollars are spent and how well each one is invested.”
Locally, United Way has raised over $200 million for our community in those 75 years.
32 Partner Agencies, 40 Programs
To determine how dollars are spent, United Way’s partner agencies are chosen through an extensive application and review process. Major criteria for selection include how closely their work is aligned with findings of a community-wide needs assessment conducted every three to five years by United Way, and whether the agencies show the capacity and capability to get results.
“There is a rigorous process involved in identifying the needs in the community and then aligning the partners best equipped to respond to those needs,” said Miller. “I would say that is true for every single agency in our portfolio. We have 65 volunteers plus several additional ones from our board level Community Impact Steering Committee who help us determine how best to spend every dollar so the process is really community-driven and intentional. It’s not a popularity contest.”
United Way strategically focuses on three areas: Education, Financial Stability and Health. Partners include CASA of Madison County, Manna House, Crisis Services of North Alabama, The Arc of Madison County and Harris Home for Children, just to name a few. There are 32 agencies in all, with United Way dollars invested in 40 of their programs.
Need Grows Daily
The need for help has grown, but unfortunately, donations have not caught up. United Way of Madison County’s annual giving campaign brought in $2.6 million this year, but has remained at that level for the past four years despite our community’s rapid growth. Claudia Bucher, Director of Resource Development, warns that perceptions about Huntsville’s recent success may give the impression the need has decreased. It’s actually the opposite, she says.
“Huntsville is booming. We’re a best place to work and live, right? It’s the wealthiest, it’s the coolest, the hippest, and yet, our giving is not at that level. United Way offers a smart, customizable way for folks to give back,” said Bucher.
Bucher said if everyone working in Madison County gave just one hour’s pay per month, United Way could raise $62 million per year.
“Those of us who are privileged to be comfortable are in a bubble. It’s easy for us not to see those who have needs,” Miller echoed. “Over 20 percent of our children in Madison County are living in poverty.”
Both say the people who give the most are hourly workers. “Blue collar people – they always have. That’s national, that’s not just local,” said Bucher. “Why? Because they’ve lived it. They’ve used our services or know someone who used our services and they want to give back.”
• 83,000 people in Madison County received service from a United Way funded program in 2017
• 70% of dollars helped someone who is financially unstable
• 30% of dollars helped someone experiencing an unexpected crisis (a sudden loss of income, health concern, a house fire, a child born with a disability, etc.)
• Average nonprofit administrative cost is 37%. United Way of Madison County’s is 19%, meaning 81 cents of every dollar is invested back into the local community.
It’s Easy to Give
Several companies do set an example for giving to United Way. A new e-pledge program makes it easier for businesses to establish a campaign, Bucher said. This method has cut down on costs, paperwork, and the amount of time needed to process information and donor wishes.
Through this e-pledge program, United Way can create a customized portal for a company or business, and employees can choose how to invest, either through the maximum impact fund to benefit the work of all 32 agencies or by selecting which United Way partner agencies they would like to support. It’s simple and customized for any employee with access to a computer.
“Some employees were sensitive about the paper pledge forms we used to use because they had to turn it in to a person; the e-pledge form makes their gift confidential,” Bucher said.
Several local companies make large annual contributions to United Way. Publix is the top giver in Madison County. Locally, employees donate more than $574,000 per year to the United Way of Madison County giving campaign.
“It’s part of their culture. When Publix bring somebody in, it’s part of the onboarding process,” said Carmelita Palmer, 2018 Board Chair for United Way of Madison County. “They talk with the employee about giving back, the company’s dedication to United Way and how their local gift can make a difference. They sign them up immediately.”
Of Publix’s 1,100 employees in Madison County, more than 100 give more than $1,000 per year. Not all are managers. Some are checkout attendants and baggers.
“When we’re shopping there, we’ll find a couple of associates and say ‘thank you so much for your support of United Way. Do you know what it’s doing in our community?’” said Miller.
The other top local corporations supporting United Way through employee giving are Redstone Federal Credit Union, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, Huntsville Hospital and PPG.
“Redstone Federal increased its campaign by $36,000 because of the ease of e-pledge,” said Bucher. “The credit union sent it out to all the branches through email and results were instant, because no one had to collect paperwork from employees and bring them to a coordinator at the main office.”
If your company is interested in establishing a giving campaign, please call Claudia Bucher at (256) 518-8210.
United Way partners will host “Caring Cruises” between August 14 and 24. These tours are the best way to learn about the work United Way and its nonprofit partners are doing together. “A lot of people will choose a morning or an afternoon if they get time off from their employer or have a flexible schedule,” Miller explained. “Others might pick a few slots, saying ‘I know nothing about these agencies… I’m going to go learn something about them.’ Anyone who lives in Madison County can participate. Carpooling and bringing others along are welcome. Organizations like Huntsville Utilities or UAH get eight or 10 people together and make it a teambuilding trip.”
Last year, over 330 tour slots were filled and United Way would love to have even more folks from the community involved this year. Details are available on United Way’s website: uwmadisoncounty.org.