United Way needs $3 million more to hit $21.6 million goal

United Way of Central Carolinas has struggled to meet its campaign goals since the start of the recession, so the fact that this year’s drive is running 4.5 percent ahead of last year is not as comforting to its executives as you might imagine.

The fact is, last year’s campaign ultimately missed its goal by $400,000.

This year, the agency’s board set an even higher goal of $21.6 million, which could be considered either bold or a little crazy. So far, it has raised $18.1 million, and the campaign ends Feb. 19.

Outgoing Executive Director Jane McIntyre prefers to think of it as bold. And because it’s the last campaign she’ll be directing for the agency, she’s hoping to “blow the top out.”

“It doesn’t have to be huge. I just want us to exceed that goal,” said McIntyre, who will be replaced in March by newcomer Sean Garrett, who was vice president of development (fundraising) for United Way Worldwide.

“I don’t want to go out with us not meeting a goal,” she said. “And you always set goals you prefer to exceed, although this one is a stretch.”

The 2013 goal was $21.4 million, and the agency appeared to have surpassed it by $100,000 at the close of the campaign in February. But a final audit later in the year showed some large corporate campaigns had raised $400,000 less than thought.

The surprise shortfall was overcome with dollars from a reserve fund, which the agency tapped several times during the recession.

McIntyre says it makes sense that the board would set a higher goal, given the agency’s ambition to help low-income children in school and homeless families.

This includes providing money and volunteers for YMCA after-school programs, as well as cash to run the Salvation Army Center of Hope. The latter is about to launch a 64-bed expansion at a time when women and children are sleeping on the floor due to lack of bed space.

United Way officials say they’re cautiously optimistic this year, because slightly $1 million more has been tallied this year than at the same time last year.

Campaign chair Adam Orvos, executive vice president of human resources for Belk Inc., noted only 103 of the top 200 company campaigns have been completed, which leaves 97 question marks. Like McIntyre, he thinks it’s good that the agency is being aggressive about the campaign.

“We’ve seen some great examples of companies stepping up in bigger ways, which is a pleasant surprise,” he said.

Among those surprises is the Ingersoll Rand campaign, which jumped 55 percent this year, to $1.27 million, and the Ernst & Young campaign, which rose 21 percent to $397,892.

McIntyre says such results reflect the improved economy. She also believes the agency has done a better job in the past couple of years re-asserting itself as a leader in dealing with social issues like homelessness and education.

This includes working with other housing charities and Foundation for the Carolinas last year to create a coordinated system that will help homeless people find affordable housing more quickly.

“I’m still convinced that there are a lot of things working for us,” she said. “This year, we have been doing a lot of work telling people where their money is going and the good it’s doing. … Now, we’re just waiting for the folks on the sideline to help us reach the goal.”