A fundraising goal of $14.2 million for this year was announced Wednesday by officials of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, as they cited a series of successes.
The United Way has succeeded at ending a decline in revenues, revamping the charity to attract more donors at supermarket checkouts, removing a pledge processing fee and tackling problems such as the city’s beleaguered school system, infant health care and veterans in need, officials said.
“We really have transformed our organization. … We really lost our way,” said Michael Weiner, president and CEO for the last four years. “We focus on telling stories about how people’s lives have changed.”
Campaign revenues had been declining for 10 years when Weiner stepped in after serving as Erie County commissioner of social services. He worked to set up a five-year strategic business plan, which is now in its fourth year.
“We needed to be more accountable as a strong steward of donor dollars that we received,” he said, and it seems to be working. “We have fewer staff, but we drive better results.”
While goals include increasing the amount of money raised – including a target of $14.7 million for 2015 – the agency is also working to get more people to contribute time for community service. It has used social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to promote its two-year-old “community baby shower,” a collection of diapers, blankets and other necessities for low-income mothers.
“Sometimes it’s more than just bringing dollars in,” Weiner said.
The United Way, which coordinates charity work and distributes money to hundreds of local nonprofit organizations – from Roswell Park Cancer Institute to the Boy Scouts – will continue this year’s campaign through March.
Weiner joined campaign chairman Dennis Black and board chairman Steve Finch to talk about the United Way’s newfound success in a meeting with The Buffalo News Editorial Board on Wednesday.
Last year, the campaign raised $14 million, higher than the $13.7 million goal. About $4.6 million raised last year went to 86 community programs managed by 58 nonprofits.
Corporate contributions rose by 16 percent – from $2.3 to $2.6 million. People donating $500 or more rose by 10 percent – from 4,100 to 4,600. Last year, 68 new companies joined the 1,100 offering United Way donations by payroll deduction.
Examples of United Way’s effective efforts included the 9,000 people who were helped last year to collect $5.4 million in Earned Income Tax Credit refunds with a free tax-preparation program that the agency sponsors. Initiatives also included a new financial literacy program that helped 1,400 veterans.
The United Way is helping to organize state-funded infant nutrition training for 200 health care workers in an effort to prevent obesity. Other new projects include the organization’s partnership with Say Yes to Education to offer more programs for public school students.
Revenue from a 3-year-old donation program at supermarket checkout lines rose from about $70,000 three years ago to $206,000 last year.