Though the economy is struggling and the United Way of the National Capital Area received six to eight months of “negative press,” Gray Wells expects to meet the Loudoun United Way’s fund-raising goal.
“We have a very good public image. The people who know us and work with us have a good idea of the types of people we are and the dedication my staff has,” said Wells, director of the Loudoun United Way, which is based in Leesburg. “There is no question we are here to do what is best for the Loudoun community and our Loudoun agencies.”
This year, the Loudoun United Way aims to raise $525,000 in a campaign that began in September by collecting donations from individuals, businesses and company employees. The United Way collected $510,000 last year.
“We really haven’t had to do any local reassurance. We had a few calls from individual donors that maybe didn’t know the staff personally. Companies and agencies have been very supportive,” Wells said.
So far, the United Way has raised $125,0000 for the 2002-03 campaign. Wells expects the amount to actually be more, since several businesses have not submitted their campaign donations and the campaigns are still in process.
“The negative press may cause people to think twice before they give this year,” Wells said. “We want to do everything we can do to reassure the public and get everything we can get for the agencies. … We’re just out there campaigning as hard as we can.”
THE FINANCIAL STATEMENTS of the United Way of the National Capital Area were under question in late 2001 into 2002. The financial reporting system used by the National Capital Area United Way was 10 to 15 years old and needed to be updated to the year 2000 and to account for larger fund-raising sums, Wells said.
The CEO of the National Capital Area United Way resigned in September and Robert Egger, as interim CEO, stepped in. Seven United Way professionals agreed to help the National Capital Area United Way with the transition and this year’s campaign.
“With all the bad press that we have received … we are very fearful that our agencies will suffer,” said Andy Johnston, assistant director for community services of the Loudoun United Way. “When agencies suffer, the people they serve suffer.”
The United Way serves 40 nonprofit agencies, which all have offices in the county and meet the United Way requirements. The agencies include the Salvation Army, the Loudoun County Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter, the Loudoun Literacy Council and Loudoun Interfaith Relief.
The Loudoun United Way raises funds for the agencies with a countywide fund drive, then sends the funds to the National Capital Area United Way for processing. Ninety percent of the donations United Way collects are given to participating agencies. The amount of donations Loudoun agencies receive depends on donor designations.
“The services that our agencies provide are important services to our residents. … Somebody has to provide those services, and somebody has to fund those services,” Wells said. “If we don’t want to increase taxes to pay for services like this, then those who can afford it need to help.”
THE AGENCIES face cuts from the county and state, while an economic downturn brings more people to the agencies seeking the services.
"They need money to operate, and the climate this year is just terrible. The state cuts in Virginia are going to be dramatic and impact social services," Johnston said, adding that some of the agencies may receive fewer foundation endowments from businesses hurting from the economic slowdown. "If the United Way campaign is weak, these agencies are getting hit on three sides. ... Agencies might have to cut back on staff and services. That's not good when we're growing as fast as we're growing."
Laura MacLaurin expects the Loudoun Interfaith Relief to receive less in United Way funding than last year.
“The pot’s going to get smaller and the number of places [requesting support is increasing]," said MacLaurin, executive director of Loudoun Interfaith Relief in Leesburg.
MacLaurin expects the media reports on the National Capital Area United Way to have a “negative impact” in Loudoun County. “We are part of the United Way capital area, so whatever confidence is missing, it will have an effect on the capital area,” she said. “It’s discouraging for people, and it’s a shame.”
United Way board member Keith Meurlin said the press is “clearly having an impact.”
“We’re finding in our own campaign with the Airports Authority, there are more questions related to the [news] articles,” said Meurlin, airport manager of the Washington Dulles International Airport. “In raising funds, what we try to do is focus on the services that are being provided, and we’re having to answer or explain a lot relating to what’s been in the media recently.”
Even so, Meurlin expects the United Way to meet this year’s fund-raising goal. “I think the needs are such, people will step up to the plate and contribute,” he said.
“I think it will be harder this year to meet the goal, again because of the economy,” Wells said, adding that even so, she expects the United Way to accomplish this year’s fund-raising objective. “I’m very optimistic. … Our community is very supportive,” she said.
Johnston said, "I can't tell you how much we care about our agencies. We're a small community and know our agencies and the important work they do. We just don't want to see them harmed."