Response to United Way’s 100th anniversary push: ‘Invigorating’

By Chicago 4 Min Read

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CHAMPAIGN — In the early planning stages of United Way of Champaign County’s 100th anniversary endowment, $4 million seemed like an ambitious goal.

By the public announcement of the campaign Thursday night, that goal had been raised to $6 million, with $5.54 million already donated.

United Way Chief Development Officer Becca Guyette said the response was nothing short of “invigorating.”

“The permanence of this support just fills me with hope,” Guyette said.

The organization had brought in professional assessors for a feasibility study on how much money could likely be raised for the endowment, which resulted in the $4 million goal in January.

In a month, $1.4 million had been donated, and the goal was bumped to $5 million.

Kim and Denise Martin were some of the earliest supporters of the campaign, donating $500,000.

Guyette said she basically didn’t give them a choice in becoming co-chairs and having their names attached to the project.

The Martins have been long-term supporters of United Way of Champaign County, and Kim Martin said the 100th anniversary seemed like the perfect timing to step up their involvement.

“This allows for many more funds to support United Way’s work in the future,” he said.

Martin said he and his wife like supporting United Way because it’s an easy way to put funds toward a lot of different causes through one organization.

“Every critical need, they’re trying to see to it,” he said.

The endowment is a bit different than donating to one of United Way’s projects, though.

This fund is intended to cover the organization’s operating costs for the foreseeable future, which will in turn allow more donations to go directly to charity work.

That distinction was why Guyette had some concerns about being able to bring in the funding.

“Donors want their money to go right back out into the community, which is fair,” Guyette said.

She said that longer-term donors tend to have a better understanding of how supporting something like the endowment would turn around to better help the community.

Guyette has spent most of her time since January meeting with various donors, to the point that when she told her friends the endowment would be announced publicly, the response was, “Finally!”

United Way decided to surprise long-term donors, called “Pillars,” with the news of the endowment at its annual Pillar Leadership Celebration.

United Way Pillars are families who donate $500 or more every year.

While that doesn’t sound like much compared to the multimillion-dollar goals for fundraising each year, the consistency provides a basis for the United Way to keep operating.

It adds up, too: There are enough Pillar families to bring in over $2 million each year.

“It’s incredible to see, year after year, this support,” Guyette said.

With endowment fundraising and yearly fundraising happening concurrently, there’s a lot of work to do at United Way — especially if the endowment goal keeps going up.

“The goal adjustments, while a little exhausting, have not scared me,” Guyette said.

Guyette said she has been impressed by the generosity of the community, but also its trust in United Way to plan donations for the future through things like the endowment.

“We want to see this United Way around for the foreseeable future,” Martin said. “For the next 100 years, let’s keep it going.”

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