Campaign facing another shortfall

First Posted: 1/15/2009

Agency at 81 percent of goal

LUMBERTON - Sandra Oliver, executive director of the United Way of Robeson County, could read from the same tattered script she's used for the past several years when she talks about this year's fund-raising.
The campaign kicks off with enthusiasm. The pacesetters' collections are counted. Oliver and her staff make their rounds, seeking support for the organization.
Then an announcement is made - the United Way is unlikely to meet its goal. The local chapter, which used to make its goal almost every year, looks like it will fall short again.
It's a tradition that Oliver would like to end. The agency's Christmas wish is to meet its $600,000 goal. But, for the sixth straight year, it looks like that present won't be under the tree.
“We're probably not going to close out at the end of the year,” said Oliver.
The agency had raised $488,537.40 as of Thursday, about 81 percent of its goal. Oliver predicted the 2003 campaign would wrap up in March - the same time as last year, when the agency fell $21,817 short, or about 4 percent, of the $600,000 goal. Right now, the agency needs $111,463 to reach its goal.
“Our concern at this point is we're not going to make goal,” Oliver said. “We've got to get closer.”
Unfortunately, the Christmas season brings more requests for help.
“We're overwhelmed with telephone calls,” said Frances Morgan, Oliver's assistant. “They call because they need help with Christmas, or with their light bills. The phone is the busiest and we do more referrals in December than any other month.”
United Way provides assistance to organizations, not individuals, and refers all calls for assistance to the appropriate agency.
Oliver said there are a few companies whose campaigns won't be held until January and March, but that individuals will make the difference in helping the agency meet goal.
“There are people we usually hear from that we haven't' heard from yet,” she said. “This really impacts our agencies, who are facing cutbacks already.”

Providing help

Oliver said that a gift to the United Way goes a long way - but it doesn't travel outside of Robeson County, helping 17 organizations across the county such as Hospice of Robeson, Lumberton Christian Care Center, Palmer Prevention and the Rape Crisis Center for Robeson County.
Oliver said that the agency estimates the United Way touches one out of every four people in the county, “from 4-H to rape victims to families struggling with their finances.”
Money given through United Way is often worth much more than its initial dollar amount, she said, since it is used as local matching money for larger grants.
“They might need to raise $25,000 for a $100,000 grant,” Oliver said. “Tom Norton at Palmer Prevention has told me that, for every $1 from United Way, they get $3 from the federal government.”
Oliver said it is too soon to say if the agency will have to cut any funding to the organizations it helps support.
“In January, we'll have to look at where we are,” she said. “I hope we do at least as well as last year. We don't want to go back and cut agencies. They're already facing other cuts … .
“I really want to make an appeal to the people of Robeson County,” Oliver said. “Sometimes people think, 'I can only give a little,' but it adds up and it makes a difference.”

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