Charlotte’s United Way reached its $22 million campaign goal for the year, the most it has raised since 2009, when it was emerging from the economic downturn.
As in the past, the campaign’s two biggest contributors were the city’s banks, Wells Fargo (No. 1) and Bank of America (No. 2). United Way doesn’t release corporate campaign totals, but it says Wells Fargo raised $350,000 more this year, a 21 percent increase.
The overall United Way campaign was up $400,000 over 2015, but that additional money is still not enough to allow the agency to avoid dipping into its reserve fund for needed money. The agency has been going into reserves since 2008, taking about $1 million annually to flesh out the needs of its 80 member charities.
United Way has struggled to meet campaign goals since the recession, falling short in 2010 and 2013. As a result, the agency says it takes a conservative approach to campaigns, setting realistic goals only after doing an “intense analysis.”
United Way Executive Director Sean Garrett believes the agency will continue needing money from reserves for the next two or three years. He says United Way budgeted $2.6 million from reserves the past two years, but has typically needed much less. The reserve fund currently has about $10 million in it, officials said.
Such funds are set up by United Way chapters to hold a six-month backup supply of cash for member charities.
“I’m optimistic on the direction we’re heading,” said Garrett, who joined the local United Way 13 months ago. “But you don’t just erase $2.6 million over night. It may take two or three years.”
New companies in the community are helping, he said, citing US Bank, Publix and Sealed Air. Publix, which moved to the area two years ago, is now the sixth largest of United Way’s corporate campaigns, he said.
The improved economy is helping, but United Way leaders say the agency is also doing a better job of asserting itself as a problem solver, not just a program funder. United Way is currently playing a role in a series of community initiatives, including efforts to improve school attendance and house the homeless.
Money from the agency’s campaign funds programs run by 80 member charities in five counties, including shelters for women and children, medical programs for people unable to afford health care, and mentoring for children from low-income homes or shelters.
United Way’s volunteer Community Investment Councils are currently evaluating results from last year’s charity programs to determine where this new funding will be invested. The councils are comprised of over 150 donor volunteers across all five counties. A board vote on their funding recommendations will occur in June.