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Column: Tough economy hurts United Way of Greater Atlanta campaign

By Maria Saporta

Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, March 29, 2013

The economic recovery has not yet trickled down to United Way of Greater Atlanta.

When United Way holds its campaign celebration April 1 on the center court at Philips Arena from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., it will announce an expected shortfall of $2.7 million from its$80.7 million goal for 2012.

“The campaign is hard,” said Milton Little, president of United Way of Greater Atlanta. “The economy may have some positive signs for some, but for those of us raising money, it’s still a very difficult environment.”

A real high point to the 2012 Atlanta campaign, however, is that for the first time ever one of its corporate donors raised more than $6 million — Publix Super Markets. Publix has been the only company to raise more than $5 million — and it has done so for the past three years in a row.

But beyond Publix is a growing realization that United Way’s traditional business model needs to adapt to the changing work environment that is now more fluid and less permanent. United Way has relied on workplace giving campaigns, usually at the largest companies and employers in a community.

“We are still dependent on 50 companies for almost 70 percent of the campaign,” Little said. “What those companies do and how they get impacted by economic expansion or contraction determines how we do. We have got to change the business model.”

That is one of the reasons United Way also will be launching its new branding campaign called: “Be Greater Atlanta” on April 1. The organization officially changed its name from United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta to United Way of Greater Atlanta last year to reflect a more aspirational and more encompassing message for the organization.

The “Be Greater Atlanta” campaign will urge people living throughout the Atlanta region to perform “Acts of Greatness” to help make the overall community as strong as it can be.

The last few years of United Way campaigns have been sobering, with most remaining relatively flat or experiencing a slight decline. That, in turn, leads to fewer dollars that United Way can allocate to the dozens of agencies and hundreds of programs that it supports in its strategic areas of education, self-sufficiency, health and homelessness.

Kevin Greiner, the 2012 campaign chairman and president of Gas South, called the $80.7 million goal “aggressive.” Last year’s campaign goal of $80.4 million ended up bringing in $76.5 million after several expected grants and pledges fell through. In that context, Greiner called the 2012 results a success.

“We made a lot of important and positive changes to the campaign this year, including a reorganization of the volunteer campaign positions, a new staffing structure and an increased focus on social media and leadership giving,” Greiner said, adding that his campaign cabinet did a “phenomenal job.”

The most challenging sectors in the campaign were retail, real estate and legal, according to Little. The other major donors remained largely the same.

Giving at the $4 million and above level were the Combined Federal Campaign and AT&T Inc. United Parcel Service also is now back in that category.

SunTrust Bank and The Coca-Cola Co. are at the $3 million level; and Georgia Power/Southern Co. are at the $2 million level.

The companies raising $1 million or more include: Wells Fargo, QuikTrip, IBM Corp., Deloitte, AGL Resources, Delta Air Lines, Cox Enterprises, Genuine Parts Co., GE’s business units, Kroger, and Ernst & Young.

By the way, United Way is conducting a search for a new chief development officer who can work on new ways of raising revenue.

The 2013 campaign chair is Pat Falotico, senior state executive for IBM in Georgia.

Atlanta Committee for Progress Leadership

The Atlanta Committee for Progress, the prestigious group of top-level business leaders that advises Mayor Kasim Reed, has lined up its leadership for the next two years.

At its quarterly meeting on March 22, Rick Smith, chairman and CEO of Equifax, presided over his first meeting as ACP’s chairman. He succeeded Jim Hannan, CEO of Georgia-Pacific LLC, in that role.

After the meeting, Smith said that the group elected Bill Rogers, CEO of SunTrust Banks, as its vice chair. That means Rogers will chair the organization in 2014.

“I want to thank ACP for being an essential partner,” Reed said in an interview after the meeting. “I hope that every mayor who follows me will keep it in place.”

Reed credited ACP’s leadership — Turner Broadcasting’s Phil Kent, Hannan and others who serve on the board — for helping him enact several major initiatives, including pension reform.

The Atlanta Committee for Progress was started in 2003 by then-Mayor Shirley Franklin to enact several initiatives.

Maria Saporta

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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