Western New Yorkers are asked often to care, to share their blessings with others. They come through. Generous even during economic adversity, residents of this region are known for their support of charitable causes.
But tough economic times do challenge that generosity, and now is no exception, especially now that the nation's charitable instincts face New Orleans. Getting the most mileage from fewer dollars becomes important, and donors need confidence that will happen. The current annual fund-raising campaign for the United Way, which efficiently spends only 9.6 cents of every dollar on administrative costs, offers that confidence.
It's an open-ended campaign, although most of its workplace efforts will wrap up toward the end of October. The campaign focuses on the needs of this community, rather than a dollar figure. It carries a sense of urgency this year, as county funding of non-profit organizations vanishes while community services are even more needed.
The challenge began Aug. 17, when 4,400 volunteers from nearly 200 companies put in hours of labor for community groups during the annual "Day of Caring." It continues now, with efforts to come as close as possible to $34.5 million -- about three times the amount usually raised in successful campaign years -- that the United Way estimates is needed for comprehensive service funding here. Managers know, realistically, they won't make it. They also know the community has to try.
The United Way does not just stick its collective hand out each year. It has been a leader in forcing change in human services systems -- seeking ways to encourage cooperation and limit duplication of services by different groups, and promoting better long-range planning and management. The payoff is a better chance to make every dollar count in charitable group funding.
The best tool the United Way itself offers is its "Community Care" program, which -- unlike designated-agency giving -- puts funding decisions in the hands of more than 100 community volunteers who assess needs and encourage partnerships to leverage the effect of the donations. But in an era of fewer dollars and greater needs, all donations are critically important. Now is the time to contact the United Way, or pledge to company United Way campaigns, and make this all work. The community counts on it.