United Way director: Companies ‘bread and butter’ of fundraising campaign

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

Anyone who works in a Clovis or Portales office with more than a dozen people is likely aware that “‘tis the season” for United Way fund drives.

After all, it’s companies with several employees that Erinn Burch, executive director of the United Way of Eastern New Mexico, calls the “bread-and-butter” for annual fundraising efforts.

“It gives us a chance to get in front of people and ask them to give,” said Burch.

Burch has set a goal of $580,000 for the current 2009 campaign. If achieved, that would best the $530,000 garnered a year ago.

In 2007, the current goal of $580,000 was the amount raised for the local United Way. Burch said $203,078 has been pledged so far this year.

The biggest question coming during presentations, according to Burch, is whether local funds go to local organizations.

“Staying local is the most important thing I believe and that’s the most important thing about United Way,” Burch said. “There may be almost 1,300 United Ways in the country, but each one of us is local — the money we raise never goes anywhere else.”

Unlike much of its history, when a fairly fixed number of beneficiary groups were dubbed “United Way Agencies,” the umbrella organization these days can help any 501-3C non-profit group, as long as they ask and the local board deems their cause worthy.

In 2009, 17 organizations were funded through the local United Way.

“That list is slightly different every year, because every year there is an application process and every year new people are in the mix,” Burch said. “Ten years ago, we had a membership list and you applied to become a United Way member.

“The way we do it now is we have a grant process and it’s open to any 501-3C that would like to apply,” she added.

As an example, Burch said the Curry County Literacy Council decided not to apply last year but will likely ask for money after the current campaign is over.

The traditional largest beneficiaries in Eastern New Mexico in recent years have been the Food Bank, Hartley House and Salvation Army.

Last year, the Food Bank of Eastern New Mexico received funds for four different programs. One is the “Food for Kids Weekend Backpacks,” where local schools distribute food each Friday for children to take home.

“It really insures, for us, that kids are eating over the weekend,” said Todd Morris, principal at James Bickley Elementary in Clovis. “Usually, you can get about two meals out of one of these bags.”

A group applying for the first time a year ago was Special Olympics in Clovis and Portales.

The $4,200 granted by United Way, according to local coordinator Pat Dodson, went to renting a charter bus to take Special Olympians to Las Cruces for a state bowling competition and to Albuquerque for the state track meet.

Dodson said in the past, a convoy of up to 10 vehicles were used to transport participants to activities like this.

“With the bus, we can put all the kids on there. They have a bathroom on there and video and it’s going to make it better for the athletes,” Dodson said. “They’ll have their movie and we won’t have to pull over every time someone needs to use the restroom.”

Burch estimates United Way is at around 35 percent of their ultimate goal, with corporate visits to the likes of Southwest Cheese, Allsup’s, Sunland Peanuts and more still to come.

“We have a number of corporate campaigns and their corporate headquarters are somewhere else — and they don’t get the numbers to us right away,” said Burch, who added the process will culminate at the end of January. “We’ll end our campaign and immediately go into our grant funding process.”