United Way lowers annual campaign goal

Reflects consolidation and closure of corporate partners, including Bon-Ton

Mary Lou Young, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, at the organization's 2017 campaign closing.

The consolidation, relocation and, in at least one case, bankruptcy of a few locally-based corporations has prompted United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County to lower its annual community campaign fundraising target, reflecting the loss of those major corporate donors.

Mary Lou Young, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, at the organization’s 2017 campaign closing.

United Way has set a goal of $56 million for its 2018 campaign, down from its 2017 target of $60.25 million. The organization ultimately exceeded its goal last year, pulling in $60.36 million.

While United Way’s fundraising efforts have been able to weather mergers among southeastern Wisconsin companies over the years, the recent loss of major funders, namely Bon-Ton, has caused the organization to recalibrate its goal, said Mary Lou Young, chief executive officer of United Way.

“When BMO bought M&I, when Caterpillar bought Bucyrus, when Tyco and JCI merged, those were opportunities for United Way to establish relationships with the new owners and the new C-suite to find out what their areas of interest were. It’s concerning, but it’s not unrecoverable,” Young said. “But when a company like Bon-Ton goes out of business, that’s a big account and that’s unrecoverable.”

Young also noted that, while her organization has “a great relationship” with Adient, an automotive seating supplier that has a corporate presence in Milwaukee, the company also invests heavily in United Way’s southeast Michigan arm as the Johnson Controls spinoff grows its presence there.

Given those business realities, United Way is trying to tee up its campaign for success by setting a more modest goal.

“I don’t feel like we’re coming from a place of weakness,” Young said. “This is a strong business positioning. Because we are such a successful United Way, I think it’s important to be transparent and upfront with our customers and donor base about realities.”

“We’re looking at this proactively and saying ‘What’s the right thing to do for our community?’” she added. “The campaign is a community campaign. It’s a celebration and we want everyone to continue to feel like they are part of the United Way family and are part of this celebration. We start the campaign based on reality and this is our new reality.”

Young said she’s confident the campaign will meet its 2018 target and that the organization will be able to scale its fundraising in the coming years.

United Way envisions new funder opportunities in the coming years, particularly with Foxconn Technology Group entering the region, but that won’t be reflected in this year’s campaign. As a national organization, United Way is also teaming up with Salesforce this year to deploy a new app, called Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud, that will better connect employees of big companies with giving and volunteering opportunities.

“With all of those things in place I don’t see the future in any way as bleak, I just think this is a good business decision at this point,” she said.

United Way invests in more than 220 programs and more than 110 partner agencies, with a focus on the three core issues of health, education and financial stability. Young said a gift to the United Way Community Fund is a good investment, as its programs work address complex causes of poverty, including job training, reading programs, housing, food assistance and health care access.

“If you only have so much money to give to health and human services, we truly believe that it’s a good investment for you to give it to the United Way, where we can make strategic grants,” she said.

The 2018 campaign will kick off on Aug. 30 at the organization’s new Johnson Controls Volunteer Center at its headquarters in Schlitz Park.

This will be Young’s final community campaign, as she is set to retire from her position next year. United Way president Amy Lindner will assume the CEO role in January 2019.

“I see this as my last campaign, but I’m not at the helm of it; Amy is,” Young said. “Nothing makes me feel better than knowing that I’m leaving the United Way in good hands. Amy is going to do an outstanding job. I have no doubt she will quickly make up any of this gap and move forward with a lot of strategy.”

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