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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015 10:03 pm

Workplaces double, triple United Way gifts

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

United Way of Allen County has a lot to be thankful for this year.

The nonprofit’s 2015 workplace giving campaign has received commitments 15 percent higher – or $250,000 more – than at the same time last year, according to David Nicole, president and CEO. The annual effort is at the halfway point.

Some workplaces, including 3Rivers Federal Credit Union and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, have doubled their giving compared with 2014.

And one, the local Dana Corp., has tripled it.

Dana’s hourly and salaried workers have committed $42,000 to United Way in the current campaign. That compares with $14,000 last year. That’s in addition to any corporate donation Dana might make.

Nicole said United Way is thrilled by the Dana workers’ generosity and support from management and union officials. Hourly workers there are members of United Steel Workers Local 903.

"They demonstrate what can be accomplished when we all work together towards a common goal," Nicole said in an email.

The difference between this year and last, he said, is that plant manager Mark Howard agreed to allow two union members per shift – six total – to approach co-workers while on the clock to ask for donations.

Tom Herendeen, president of Local 903, said this year’s commitments range from $1 to $25 a week. Giving at Dana had plunged about five years ago when the company started asking employees to drop off pledge cards in a lobby drop box, he said.

This year’s return to peer-to-peer conversations revived the workers’ commitment to supporting the organization, he said.

"We feel that’s what made the difference," said Herendeen, who represents 521 hourly workers. The company also employs about 100 salaried workers.

United Way representatives also attended eight employee meetings to answer questions about how the organization operates. Gayle Goodrich, AFL-CIO community services liaison to the United Way of Allen County, participated in some of those gatherings.

People want to know how much of their donations leave the community, for example. Goodrich is pleased to tell them it’s only 1 percent for the right to use the United Way logo. The rest stays here.

People are often happy to hear they can designate which agency receives their donation. And people working in Allen County but living in a neighboring county can direct their donation to their home community.

Goodrich also talked about the local United Way 2-1-1 call center, which refers local people in need to agencies that can help them. She was surprised that so few of the employees she talked to were familiar with the service, which helps about 46,000 callers a year.

United Way collects money given through payroll deduction and distributes it to 40 member agencies, including American Red Cross of Northeast Indiana, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana, Catholic Charities, Early Childhood Alliance and Fort Wayne Urban League.

What money isn’t passed along goes to pay salaries for people including the 2-1-1 operators.

The local United Way’s goal last year was to raise $4.9 million. Officials said the current three-year goal is $7 million. But, said spokeswoman Tracie Ortman, "Any goal we set doesn’t meet all the needs of the community."

Supporting the United Way of Allen County had been a no-brainer for Don Cates. The chief executive officer of 3Rivers Federal Credit Union believes the nonprofit does great work in the community.

But in recent years, he stopped making a big deal about his support. As a result, giving slipped at the credit union. Last year, 23 percent of 3Rivers employees participated in the annual giving campaign. This year, the number more than doubled to 51 percent.

Their combined donations increased to $42,300 from $19,500.

"I’ve been involved with campaigns for 20 years, and I let this happen," said Cates, who is co-chairman of this year’s local United Way campaign. "It’s a tremendous return on time invested."

Cates grilled hot dogs and hamburgers for employees as a campaign kickoff. Goodrich said such events make the annual drive more fun for workers.

Employers can drive participation, Goodrich said, by offering incentives such as paid time off – even if it’s just the opportunity to leave work early one day. Some workplaces hold raffles, organize bingo games and hold other activities to generate donations.

sslater@jg.net