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United Way officials reassure charity leaders

Local charity leaders, worried about prospects for the United Way of Central Carolinas' annual fund-raising campaign, received reassurances about the drive Friday during a meeting with senior United Way officials.

Leaders of the charities, all of which rely on United Way money, asked for the meeting because they are concerned about public anger over United Way CEO Gloria Pace King's pay package. The United Way's board agreed to pay her more than $1.2 million in salary, bonus, expenses and retirement contributions in 2007.

That includes a one-time pension contribution, which board members said is fair compensation for a CEO they consider one of the finest United Way leaders in the country. But many donors have reacted with outrage; some have suggested they won't contribute to the annual campaign.

Such declarations concerned the leaders of the 98 social services charities supported by the United Way. Just days after the first stories on King's pay appeared, the CEOs of the groups met with the United Way's executive board to express their concerns. They asked for the meeting Friday with United Way senior staffers so they could hear how the leading edge of each year's campaign – called the Pacesetter drive – is faring.

Pacesetters are companies that agree to launch drives among their employees in advance of the larger, community-wide campaign in the fall. United Way officials use the Pacesetter results as a gauge for how the full campaign might fare.

The United Way raised a record $45.3 million last year.

Jane McIntyre, head of the YWCA Central Carolinas and a leader among the charity CEOs, said about 20 CEOs showed up for Friday's meeting. United Way staffers told them the Pacesetter campaign is going well, she said. About 150 companies conducted such campaigns last year; McIntyre said United Way officials revealed that a slightly higher number had committed to do so this year.

“They feel good, but you really are afraid to feel good because of the economy,” she said.

Back in mid-July, McIntyre expressed concern to other charity leaders and United Way officials. She wrote in an e-mail that she was “hearing from companies that are struggling with their employees and leadership and many are postponing their Pacesetter campaigns.”

But she subsequently explained that she'd only heard that specifically about two companies. The Observer contacted about 10 companies. Most said they hadn't started their campaigns yet, or voiced support for the United Way's efforts to combat social problems. Few, if any, said they were having problems getting employees to contribute.

McIntyre said the charity leaders want to be kept informed about the situation, and want to help the United Way get the word out about the campaign. “We talked about how communication, and regular communication, from the United Way to all of us is important,” she said. “I think it went well.”

Mark Pierman, head of United Family Services, said the meeting focused not on fallout from the pay controversy, but rather how the charities can help spread the word that the slumping economy makes the United Way's mission more critical than ever.

United Way officials said in a prepared statement that they expect this year's fundraising effort to be challenging, given the economy and the controversy over King's pay package.

“While we respect the personal choices people make about their philanthropy,” the statement said, “we urge the community to consider that the needs in our community have never been greater.”

Staff writer Mark Price contributed to this report.