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Betsy Nelson: United Way campaign results offer hope

Betsy Nelson: United Way campaign results offer hope

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It’s been some time since nonprofits have had something to cheer about. They have been hit hard by proverbial one-two punches.

With the economy struggling and government budgets under duress, nonprofits have been called upon to deliver even more for our disadvantaged and vulnerable neighbors. Meanwhile, donors tightened their wallets.

Although its fiscal year will not end until June 30 and results are still coming in, United Way of Central Maryland (UWCM) is projecting a 3 percent increase in its most recent campaign. While the growth is modest, it marks the second consecutive year of campaign growth after several years of decline.

UWCM is a unique bellwether because its annual fundraising appeal is so diversified, comprising tens of thousands of individual donors, hundreds of area business and more than a dozen foundations.

Undoubtedly, securing Molly and Mayo Shattuck to serve as 2011 campaign co-chairs of its private sector campaign was a boon. Both were very active in cultivating donations personally and building community awareness about poverty, malnutrition, homelessness and many other social issues.

It is welcome news that Alan Wilson and his executive team at McCormick & Company are taking the reins for the 2012 campaign.

Emphasis on health

It is no coincidence that in 2010, giving started to grow just after UWCM reset its strategic plan in light of the economic malaise.

As its first priority, the board refocused the 85-year-old institution on meeting the basic needs of people living at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level through its grant-making, special initiatives and volunteer projects.

Recognizing that gaps in basic human services vary among jurisdictions in central Maryland, UWCM decentralized much of its grant decision making, adding breadth and expertise to its six local partnership boards. And it took steps to enhance the accountability of its grant recipients.

UWCM also launched an ambitious program to improve the health of individuals and families who find it difficult to access or afford nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

The Access to Healthy Food Initiative has already raised $700,000 since October, and this United Way program is well on its way to providing and distributing 1.5 million pounds of healthy food this year to people who need it.

CFC posts big gains

UWCM’s strategic plan also directed the organization to become more efficient and effective in its fundraising efforts. UWCM became leaner, lowering its costs substantially while maintaining a fee of just 5 percent on designated gifts.

To help nonprofits improve their cash flow in tough times, UWCM also accelerated the frequency of it payouts from quarterly to monthly.

What’s more, the Chesapeake Bay Area Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), a workplace giving campaign comprising federal workers (managed by but separate from UWCM), saw a dramatic 11 percent increase between its 2010 and 2011 campaigns. Helping to fuel this growth is an infusion of federal jobs in our region resulting from the federal Base Realignment and Closure program (BRAC).

It will take years for the economy to recover. But it’s heartening to see that charities like UWCM are adapting to present day realities, and that charitable contributions are on the rise once again.

Betsy Nelson, president of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, writes every other week for The Daily Record. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or [email protected].

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