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United Way Looks to Bring Young Professionals to Its Donor Base

Original Source - Kansas City Star

By Matt Campbell

Local United Way officials approach the 2015 fundraising campaign knowing they face a still-wobbly economy and a number of young professionals who have yet to acquire the habit of philanthropy.

Still, they’re asking givers to dig deeper into their pockets. And they are launching an initiative to reach the under-30 set.

“There are still a lot of lives we need to touch,” said this year’s co-chairwoman Alise Martiny.

Martiny, of the Greater Kansas City Building and Trades Council, is working with Roshann Parris of Parris Communications to spearhead this year’s campaign.

Mindful that last year’s donation total was less than the year before — after several years of growth — officials have opted again not to tie themselves to a specific monetary goal. They hope to exceed last year’s $35 million, but they say it also is important to increase their donor base. They call it “people raising.”

To that end, United Way is launching an initiative it calls LINC, which stands for Lead. Impact. Network. Change. It is a donor group specifically meant for people aged 30 and younger who make an annual undesignated gift of $250 or more to United Way. The initiative will provide opportunities for volunteering and is intended to be a way for young professionals to find one another.

“You can’t afford to be an entrepreneur without being engaged,” Parris said.

The LINC initiative mirrors efforts elsewhere.

“We definitely are focusing on engaging the millennial age group and there have been a number of initiatives across the country,” said Anne Marie Borrego, director of media and public relations for United Way Worldwide. “It makes a lot of sense with the baby boomers retiring. This is a completely different part of the workforce with different needs and interests.”

LINC is also being piloted in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Columbus, Houston, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. The program has attracted nearly 2,300 members who give an average of $700 in the first year.

The local United Way 2015 campaign kicks off Sept. 9 with a luncheon at Union Station. The campaign ends Dec. 3.

Officials cite the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census to document there are more than 224,000 people in the six-county metro area living at or below the poverty line. That includes nearly 82,000 children. The number means roughly one in eight residents lives in poverty, up from one in 10 in 2008.

“If poverty were a city in our region, it would be the second largest city next to Kansas City,” said Brent Stewart, president of the United Way of Greater Kansas City.

In addition, three out of five area fourth-graders are not reading at grade level, according to the Department of Education. And one-sixth of adults in the metro area say they live in poor health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year United Way honed its message to four core areas of poverty, literacy, career readiness and well-being. The last area encompasses physical and mental well-being as well as neighborhood safety.

The local United Way funds about 170 agencies and about 300 programs. Officials point to success in several of their initiatives. The 211 social services hotline took more than 178,000 calls last year. More than 1,350 children are receiving free books every month. Nearly 1,300 young adults have been connected to internships or careers. An income tax service helped more than 6,600 people receive more than $6.5 million in refunds last year.

Parris encouraged people to increase their United Way giving this year. Even people of limited means can make a difference by increasing a $5 donation to $10, she said.

“Carve out a piece of your paycheck every month and give it to someone you don’t know,” Parris said. “Do something for someone who can never say thank you.”