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FUND DRIVE CONTINUES TILL SPRING
UNITED WAY CAMPAIGN TAKES A NEW APPROACH

The United Way of Buffalo & Erie County still will throw a big luncheon party Wednesday -- it just won't mark the completion of the annual fall campaign.

Organizers of the campaign, continuing their emphasis on a new approach to fund-raising, say the drive will continue through March 2005. In years past, the campaign usually is finished by now.

But United Way's board of trustees decided this year to take the campaign in a different direction. It deliberately chose to downplay a campaign goal and a deadline for raising the money.

Organizers are providing periodic updates of what they've raised so far, and as of the weekend, $10.8 million in pledges was in hand.

By this time in 2003, the campaign had already been wrapped up, with $18.9 million raised.

Despite having $8 million less so far, United Way officials said they were actually on pace with last year's numbers.

That's because the organization has ceased the practice of counting planned or estimated pledges in its final tally.

Usually, those pledges ended up coming in, but United Way officials also discovered that the practice discouraged some potential donors from chipping in because they assumed the campaign was complete. Not this year.

"We're basically going to tell the community what's in house," said Arlene Kaukus, executive director.

Some large employers, including Wegmans and Merchants Insurance Group, already have completed their workplace campaigns -- in which employees sign up to have donations deducted directly from their paychecks.

Others, such as Delaware North and HSBC, are still in the middle of their campaigns or have yet to start.

While campaign organizers have a fund-raising target in mind, they are not harping on it.

That number -- $33 million, or 75 percent more than the 2003 goal -- is based on calculating the costs of the agency's current efforts in eight specific areas and then adding what it will cost to achieve measurable improvement in those areas.

Kaukus isn't sure whether the number will be met, but she said the potential is there based on the number of workers in the area -- more than 400,000 -- and the number who currently give to United Way -- about 90,000.

So far, the agency has signed up 3,049 new donors, who pledged an average of $83 per person.

"To get to $33 million, we need a lot more than 3,000 new donors. Three thousand is great, but we need others to step up. The capacity is there if you look at the numbers," Kaukus said.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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