QA with Joanne Miles: United way public relations director

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 6, 2007

How does the United Way of West Alabama operate?

Each United Way is an independent organization. The only thing that is the same is the name. For example if you give to the United Way in Birmingham, that money stays in Birmingham. When people give to the United Way of West Alabama, it stays in West Alabama to help aid people in Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Marengo, Pickens Sumter and Tuscaloosa counties.

We do send .75 percent of whatever we raise to the national (organization), and that is to maintain use of the name, logo and help defray costs. They have no input on what we do. If you look at United Way organizations and compare them throughout the country, they have all their own agency members, for example we have 26. Some of them are the same; most have Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, Red Cross and Salvation Army. We have those basic ones, but we also have things like Focus on Senior Citizens, Turning Point, United Cerebral Palsy of West Alabama and West Alabama AIDS Outreach.

How long has the United Way of West Alabama been operating?

The first United Way drive was in 1946. It was called Community Chest, then the United Fund and then United Way of Tuscaloosa. The first year, they raised $64,000.

What is the fundraising goal for this year?

Right now our goal for 2007 is $3,125,000.

Is that more than the previous year&8217;s goal?

Yes, last year we raised $3,000,060.

How does the United Way come up for the fundraising goal for the year?

The goal is primarily determined by community volunteers. They will meet and based on what they see in the community, they decide what is possible to raise. We are very lucky in West Alabama, in this economy, because they decided we could raise this amount.

How has the campaign gone so far?

Even though we are scheduled to end on Nov. 9 we are at 33.3 percent, which means we have raised $1,040,922. We have so many large accounts like Mercedes and the University of Alabama, it takes them a while to get everything in to us. Considering our scheduled end date is Nov. 9. We put that as our end date, but we know we won&8217;t be finished. That gives people a point at which to aim. We really feel very good. It&8217;s been coming in very good and very nicely.

What is the main way people contribute?

The money people contribute comes primarily from the workplace. About 64 percent of what we raise comes from working men and women. That was the idea behind United Way originally, if each person who worked gave a little bit, then when friends and neighbors had a problem, they could be helped. We have what we call loaned executives who visit workplaces all over and present programs about what United Way is and what it does. Then within the companies, they have assigned people who will work with employees to answer questions, showing videos and asking people if they will please contribute.

How do you think the United Way approach to fundraising differs from other organizations who sponsor one event for one organization each year?

Most agencies will do a couple fundraising events each year. We just do our campaign once a year. Once people give, they know what they give is put in a big pool of money, which is then allocated based on community volunteer recommendations and the 26 agencies we work with. When people give one time a year, it goes to help 26 agencies, which in turn helps thousands of people. We don&8217;t any big major events, and we work primarily through the workplace.

How do people generally respond to the United Way&8217;s method of asking for contributions?

Through the years, people have responded very well. We&8217;re very lucky in West Alabama that the community is so supportive. United Way wouldn&8217;t have grown as much as it has if it wasn&8217;t for community support. People are incredible, I can&8217;t say enough about them in terms of their volunteerism and in their contributions. It&8217;s unbelievable. This town and this whole area are very special in that respect. I think it does ring a bell for people, they are only asked to give once and it goes a long way.

What are the agencies the funds go to specifically?

They go to Alabama Head Injury Foundation, American Red Cross, The ARC (Association of Retarded Citizens), Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boy Scouts, Boys&Girls Club of West Alabama, Caring Days, Child Abuse Prevention Services, Easter Seals West Alabama, Family Counseling Services, Focus on Senior Citizens, Girl Scouts, Good Samaritan Clinic, Hospice of Fayette Medical Center, Hospice of West Alabama, 211/Information and Referral Services, Mental Health Association, Phoenix House, Salvation Army, Temporary Emergency Services, Turning Point, Tuscaloosa&8217;s One Place, United Cerebral Palsy of West Alabama, West Alabama AIDS Outreach and YMCA.

How do the funds get divided up among the agencies?

We have 32 people who volunteer to be a part of the allocations committee. They review the requests that come in from all the agencies, which shows how much they will need for the following year, then the allocations committee visits the agencies, speaks to the directors, speaks to the clients, looks at their records to determine the appropriateness of the amount they&8217;ve requested. Nothing is done without study. Sometimes agencies get a little more than they ask for, some times they get exactly what they ask for. It&8217;s not United Way staff that does that; it&8217;s volunteers.

How much of the funds raised go directly to the agencies supported by the United Way of West Alabama?

Approximately 87 percent of all the money we raise goes toward the agencies we serve.