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Help the United Way; Organization vital to WNY deserves the generous support of the community

The United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, which helped more than 29,000 people last year, now is asking for our help to continue its mission. The 2011 fund campaign is under way with an ambitious goal of $13.5 million and a new approach to fundraising that should encourage more businesses and private donors to participate.

There's good reason to be optimistic, given that the United Way last year reversed a 10-year slide in donations by raising $13.3 million, a $30,000 increase from the previous year. Topping last year's total by $200,000 won't be easy in an area with continuing economic troubles and declining population, but give the organization credit for setting its sights higher.

Part of the organization's new approach was to eliminate the administrative fee on workplace gifts that donors designate for specific charities. That move will cost the United Way $220,000 in operating funds, but it could spur contributions because donors will know that 100 percent of their money is now going to the designated agency.

Officials have taken an interesting and more professional approach to soliciting money by training fund raisers in the Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage course, trimming expenses and cutting staff. They also are using new technologies, including targeted text message donations and checkout donations at grocery stores.

There is renewed emphasis on improving ties to the community to make the United Way stronger and better able to help nonprofits reach their goals, and also to require accountability from each beneficiary. Organizations receiving funding must demonstrate progress toward their goals or they could be dropped from the program.

Last year, 53,000 individuals and 1,200 companies, foundations and other organizations contributed to the United Way. And beyond the cash donations, the United Way coordinates the efforts of thousands of volunteers in Business Meets Community, ugive.org, Family Volunteer Day and the Day of Caring. The goal is to improve on those numbers this year.

The United Way has had a difficult decade as donations plummeted from $19.6 million in 2001, mirroring the hard times in Western New York. The United Way has long had the benefit of top-notch board members with strong business backgrounds, and their strength is evident in the new strategies to increase giving.

Tough economic times have impacted nearly everyone, making it a challenge for the United Way and other organizations to raise money. Your contributions to the United Way will have a direct impact on the health and well-being of this community.

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