With most of the nation focused on hurricane damage and most of Illinois relieved the state finally has a budget, it's easy to overlook the need for a community campaign that supports local agencies. 

Yet, that's exactly what United Way of McLean County does as it starts a campaign unlike any in its past.

The organization will continue traditional, workplace fundraising campaigns this fall, but is emphasizing social media and direct-to-donor appeals to prompt new donors to open their wallets and for repeat donors to open their wallets wider.

"We won't have the same structure and tactics as we have in the past," United Way President David Taylor told The Pantagraph last week. "United Way is adapting our approaches to changes in the marketplace."

United Way raises money for 64 human services programs. Its traditionally structured campaigns, which focused on workplace giving, have not brought in enough money in recent years, which means programs have received much less money.

The United Way has changed up its process this year: The campaign will be ongoing, rather than having a scheduled beginning and ending. It will not have a designated campaign chairman. And it won't have a specific campaign goal.

In years past, employers (particularly large companies) encouraged workers to donate to United Way by writing a check or having money deducted from their paycheck. Employers hosted parties and contests to up the "fun" factor, and often matched employee gifts. But those practices have changed with changing workplaces, and company leaders understand the choice of giving should be just that.

In addition, today's younger donors — who may work at smaller companies or work from home — are more apt to give directly to an organization or program, rather than to an umbrella organization that doles out the money.

They'll give via a Twitter appeal or through PayPal or through a credit card that offers a match. They may choose to give to an organization or program not covered by United Way. Senior or retired donors may choose to give year-round.

Last year, United Way of McLean County raised $1.8 million, compared with $3.5 million the year before. When the board decided which programs to fund, and by how much, the total dropped to $1.1 million compared to $2.4 million.

The programs still needed the money. Even more, in fact, because so many of them receive state funding. With the lack of a state budget, and related budget cuts, people who need the most help — seniors, children, the poor, and under-educated — were most affected.

United Way can help, but it needs your help. If you're unsure how your money will be used, visit 180United.org, which shows how local donations meet local needs.

United Way helps a lot of people; the campaign restructuring is an attempt to meet the needs of the agencies that, in turn, are obligated to meet the needs of those they serve.

But it needs our help to do the job right.


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