by David Chapman
When officials with the United Way of Northeast Florida announced its 2008 campaign fundraising goal last September, optimism and passion were high despite the sliding economy.
The final numbers for 2008 are in and while the total is about 5 percent below the United Way’s $26.4 million goal, the optimism and passion were still on display as around 300 people attended the organization’s recognition event at San Jose Country Club Thursday to mark the efforts of local individuals, companies and groups.
“The current tough economy is extremely challenging,” said Connie Hodges, Northeast Florida chapter executive director. “But even when times are tough, we respond to the challenges.”
During a more intimate breakfast celebration, officials announced the latest campaign raised $24.8 million, while noting achievements such as generating more than $1.7 million in new dollars and touting the success of its first Internet-based viral campaign that raised more than $100,000.
“This (total amount raised) is a remarkable achievement in light of the economy,” said Kevin Twomey, chair of United Way’s board of trustees. “United Way was fortunate that companies in industries where business and employment remained steady did well, raising as much or more than they did last year.”
Marty Lanahan, 2008 campaign chair and Regions Bank city president, had the crowd repeat the total in unison and expressed a sense of relief and pride in the work she and numerous others put in the past year.
“It takes a lot of time, but everyone really did a great job,” said a smiling Lanahan following the event.
Always the optimist, Lanahan said she started to realize the fundraising projections might not meet the goal in the last few months of 2008 when contributions from areas like the financial sector weren’t as strong as she hoped.
Lanahan’s hopes weren’t discouraged in the least when it came to the amount of support the campaign received. She said during her year as chair she realized “how blessed we are a as community” to have the number of individuals and companies in Jacksonville that come forth for a common cause.
Many of those individuals and companies were thanked and presented awards for their efforts, including the introduction of a new award named after Sherwood Smith, late executive director of the Jacksonville Community Chest (now the United Way of Northeast Florida).
With Smith’s son, Sherwood Smith Jr., and family in attendance, the Sherwood H. Smith Children’s Champion Award was presented to Leon Baxton, COO of Communities in Schools, and Nancy Dreicer, director of the Florida Department of Children and Families’ Northeast Region, along with $1,000 awards for each.
“It’s a thrill,” said Smith, who came from Raleigh, N.C. for the event. “My father was heavily involved in campaigns and events and I know he’d be happy to see this ... It’s nice to be here and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.”
Individual awards were also presented to company employees who stepped up as employee campaign coordinators from various sized companies as well as leadership awards for those achieved benchmarks in attracting donors, contributions, percent increase in leadership giving and giving per capita.
Thought the 2008 United Way campaign is in the books, the 2009 campaign didn’t take long to get underway — it began almost as soon as the event ended.
“It starts in about 15 minutes,” said Lanahan, toward the end of the breakfast affair while drawing laughs.
The 2009 campaign chair won’t be announced until next month, according to Hodges. Lanahan has some advice for the incoming leader and all those associated with the fundraising effort for the organization’s 85th anniversary.
“Start early,” she said, smiling. “Everyone here makes a great team, but you can never start too early.”
Giving their all
The United Way of Northeast Florida celebrated its 2008 campaign Thursday and recognized its top 25 local campaign contributing companies. All figures are rounded.