United Way raises 6% more locally in 2012


Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:05 p.m.

For United Way, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is to have supportive workplace contributors, and the Campaign Finale on Thursday was a chance to celebrate their good fortune in 2012.

As guests filed into the Best Western Plus Gateway Grand, volunteers and staff of the United Way of North Central Florida showered them with applause, cheers and smiles. Many were waving handmade thank-you posters that were decorated with four-leaf clovers, which matched their Leprechaun hats and green leis. Others were shaking the hands of everyone they could reach.

"We really appreciate the efforts these people have put in over the last year," said Kim Faenza, director of communications and marketing for United Way. "It really makes a difference."

The event, with a theme of "We Are So Lucky to Have You," was tailored to thank the more than 150 contributing workplaces for their support, Faenza said.

Debbie Mason, CEO and president, said United Way had an aggressive financial goal that might have been too optimistic. Though they are still working toward reaching that goal, United Way still saw a 6 percent revenue increase from 2011, so she said there has been no shortage of positivity.

The total raised this year was $3.4 million, with Publix contributing the highest amount at $533,501. Workplace contributions account for more than 90 percent of the total campaign for United Way of North Central Florida.

The organization is unique because 100 percent of the money will go to agencies and organizations in the six counties United Way of North Central Florida represents: Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy and Union.

Mason said the overall campaign for 2012 was different than any other year because of the higher energy, tighter commitment and increased involvement. She attributes this surge of enthusiasm to the positive attitudes resulting from the end of the recession. With more means to step up, she said that company engagement appears to be on a completely different level.

"One of our main goals is participation," she said. "The more people that participate, the more people who are raving campaign ambassadors that will talk about the work we do."

Carolyn Lukert, board chair, said that in 2012, United Way developed the image of being an "identifier of needs" and a "community collaborator." The organization became something the community could trust, Lukert said.

Many of the "workplace contributors" initially start out as volunteers, Mason said, to get to know the mission better. Then they often decide to organize their own campaign. The campaigns are all unique, but the fundraising is primarily done internally through events such as chili cook-offs, employee car washes and canned food drives.

"(Companies) come up with some pretty crazy ways of energizing their campaigns," Mason said. "One company had senior executives doing silly things like tricycle races."

RTI Biologics, which has 500 employees in its Alachua office, was one of the companies commended for having a creative theme — "Agents of change — on a mission to solve our community's biggest problems.

Inspired by the James Bond movie "Skyfall", the "mission possible" theme was intended to remind employees that they can all make a difference, said Wendy Crites Wacker, executive director of global corporate and marketing communications for RTI. And during the two-week-long campaign in November, employees definitely couldn't miss the decorations and barbecue competitions, she said.

RTI Biologics increased its total donations from $80,187 in 2011 to $90,308 in 2012, which met the company goal of $90,000 and earned them the title of United Way's fourth-best contributor.

Mason said another creative company happened to be the second-highest contributor, Shands.

With a theme of the "Art of Giving," Shands campaign members won the award for Best Overall Campaign Spirit because of their drive and custom shirts that mocked Leonardo Di Vinci's Mona Lisa. The only difference was, instead of a framed smiling woman, there was a gator head.

Shands raked in $354,835 for United Way.

"Today we are showing (companies) the love because they really delivered," Mason said.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top