Atlanta’s United Way celebrates $79.3 million

By Maria Saporta

In the end, the 2009 campaign of United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta raised $79.3 million, less than 1.5 percent shy of its $80.5 million goal.

Given the economic struggles of the past year, United Way leaders were celebrating Thursday night when they heard the news.

Before announcing the campaign results, John Somerhalder, the 2009 campaign chair who is CEO of AGL Resources, set the stage by preparing the crowd of several hundred that bad news was coming.

First, the goal was the same amount that United Way was able to raise in 2008.

“That was a bold and aggressive goal,” said Somerhalder, explaining that such a goal was important because the community’s needs were so great.

United Way knew that other organizations were struggling in their fundraising efforts, often coming in with double-digit decreases in their campaigns.

The 2009 campaign had to stretch even more because in 2008, United Way had launched a one-time Critical Needs Campaign. That special campaign raised $3.7 million, which was included in the 2008 campaign numbers.

“We knew we weren’t going to ask for those (dollars) again,” Somerhalder said. That meant the campaign cabinet would have to work even harder to reach the goal.

Given all those odds, Somerhalder declared the 2009 campaign a success.

Publix Super Markets is one of the reasons metro Atlanta’s United Way did as well as it did. For the first time Atlanta’s history, one company — Publix — raised more than $5 million.

Somerhalder also recognized four companies that have been loaning executives to United Way for five decades or more — Georgia Power, Genuine Parts, SunTrust and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Milton Little, United Way’s Atlanta president, gave credit to Somerhalder for the successful campaign.

“Any time any of us were dodging bullets, John said, ‘We are going to get through this,’” Little said.

Later Little said that United Way employees donated a total $173,152 towards the campaign.

Toward the end of the program at the Loudermilk Center, Little said that normally that would be the time for this upcoming year’s campaign chair would come on stage to accept the baton from last year’s campaign chairman.

But Little said that wouldn’t be possible this year because last year’s campaign chair was the same person as this year’s campaign chair. Somerhalder agreed to serve as campaign chair for a second year, the first time that had happened in the history of Atlanta’s United Way.

So Little called Somerhalder on stage to receive a couple of gifts. One gift was a boomerang, a toy that when thrown returns to its same spot.

“Thank you for returning,” Little told Somerhalder.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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