United Way campaign close to reaching $8 mil target

By Lindsay Ducharme

Wood Buffalo is proving its reputation of most giving community is justified during the annual United Way campaign.  This year’s campaign, which has included an ambitious $8 million goal, has been one for the books.  Not only is the goal the largest in the organization’s history, the campaign’s success was threatened when mid-campaign oil prices began to plummet, however, the community once again proved there is no challenge too great for residents of Wood Buffalo.

“The target that we set was the highest that we ever had and we are very close to getting to that target.  Last week we were able to announce that we were over 95 percent of the way there.  Right now the thermometer is sitting at $7, 625, 084,” boasted Russell Thomas, United Way Fort McMurray director of communications and community impact.

“That does include the legacy donation that our former president Barbara Jewers, who passed away in September of last year, left.  She left a legacy gift of $50,000 that we were able to add to this year’s total.  That was a very touching moment for everybody as Barb really was the heart and soul of the United Way and her legacy is going to be felt for generations.”

With the campaign now officially wrapped, Thomas explained that the final tally will not be available until closer to the end of the year, however, he said “confidence is high” among organizers that they will ultimately meet the $8 million goal.

“The credit needs to go to the folks in our workplace campaigns who were very strategic in what they were trying to do this year, and what I mean by that is that they were very focused on penetrating their respective workforces in a deeper, more comprehensive way; they were trying to reach as many people as possible.”

“The folks that did give, gave more because there were some changes in the workplace population and that coupled with the economic situation, it really is a miracle they did so well,” Thomas added.

Thomas also believes the addition of new marketing tools including a United Way app and launching a “Seeing is Believing “ tour and video series allowed the campaign to better connect with the community.

“We really focused on communicating about the impact of the United Way campaign,” Thomas explained.  “We can look at a big, big number like eight million dollars and people can get lost in that, but really we started talking about the agencies and the work they do all year long to create positive impacts in the community.”

“We did that in a number of different ways, in presentations we told very personal stories, in ‘Seeing is Believing’ tours where people were canvasing on behalf of the United Way actually went and visited with agencies on the ground.  The other thing was we created a series of videos that allowed us to widen the communication and the understanding of what is happening with our member agencies.  The combination of all of that really helped in providing an understanding what the United Way is all about, how we operate, how we fund 26 agencies and over 65 different programs,” he continued.

Making the video series even more meaningful was the fact that three local men, Michael Mankowski, Jonathan Rice and Matt Thomas who make up Donald Kee Films, created the films.

“These three gentlemen grew up here and they actually when through ‘Seeing is Believing’ Tours themselves before they even made the films,” Thomas said.

“I was able to observe their ‘aha!’ moment.  These are kids that grew up here their whole lives and they had no idea what really happens at the Salvation Army or Some Other Solutions or Stepping stones Youth Home and for them it was quite amazing in terms of the transforming effect of having a deeper understanding of why this is so important.”

Thomas said the touching story of Lori McDaniel’s personal experience dealing with United Way funded agencies also struck a cord with the community.  McDaniel, who serves as co-chair of the Suncor workplace campaign, found herself on the receiving end of United Way funded agencies when a fire ravished her condo a couple years ago.

“She lost everything she had in the world,” Thomas said. “She talked about the fact that who was there in the middle of that cold February night, it wasn’t the government, it wasn’t the owner of the building, it was United Way funded agencies who were there within the hour to help.”

“What people take away from that story is that you may have the best job in the world making big money, having a fancy home and a fancy car, but if something happens tomorrow it’s going to be a United Way funded agency that’s going to be there to help and that message really hit home that people all of a sudden connected to way it’s so important to give,” he added.

For more information on the United Way Fort McMurray, including progress towards their 2014 campaign goal, visit their website http://www.fmunitedway.com.