United Way of Whatcom County partners with businesses, kicks off fall campaign

United Way of Whatcom County recently launched its Fall fundraising campaign geared toward breaking the cycle of poverty. The campaign is working with nearly 200 local companies to generate support for those who are struggling financially.

Aligning for-profits and non-profits with the same ideals of giving back to their community is a win-win, general manager for the housed units division at Timken, Cory Shaw said.

United Way is dedicated to raising money for more than 30 non-profit programs in the area that have a proven track record for making a positive difference.

A big push for this year’s campaign is to further engage folks in the workplace by enhancing opportunities for businesses and employees to volunteer and donate.

Workplace campaigns are a key component for businesses looking to become involved in the community and boost employee morale. United Way conducts more than 150 of these campaigns annually with companies big and small.

“I get the sense that the broader base of our employees want the opportunity to do some good and contribute in some meaningful way to the local community,” Shaw said. “It can be challenging as a business person to figure all that out and United Way does a tremendous job as the interface between those of us running businesses and all those doing the good work.”

According to the 2018 United Way annual report, 58,000 Whatcom County residents received services directly from a United Way funded program. The recent ALICE report from United Way (Asset- Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed) found that 17 percent of households in Whatcom County are below or at the federal poverty line.

United Way of Whatcom County is a small staff of five but has remained extremely impactful for three main reasons. First is that 100 percent of the donations stay local to Whatcom County. Second is that programs are vetted to ensure they have a successful and positive impact. Third is that your dollar goes further because it is combined with everyone else’s.

Every year United Way is looking for new opportunities to provide support for non-profits, president and CEO of United Way, Peter Theisen, said. This year they are working to strengthen the mission of two additional local organizations.

They have partnered with Futures NW to help first-generation college students access higher education by navigating scholarships and financial aid. They have also partnered with Family Promise of Whatcom County, a program of Interfaith Coalition to offer a pathway out of poverty for families in Whatcom County.

“One of the big challenges is that the needs are pretty big and every year there is a gap in unmet needs,” Theisen said. “Which is why it is so important that we have great companies get involved and hopefully more of them.”

Opportunities like the employee loan program are one of the ways United Way is helping to bridge that gap. Every year companies loan one or two-employees to United Way and work part-time for about 12 weeks.

It is a unique professional development experience for those employees that often helps them advance in their career while getting involved in the community, Theisen said. Employees gain leadership experience and a new perspective on their community.

According to a 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study, millennials will soon account for 50 percent of the workforce and corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an important factor for most of them.

The study found that 64 percent of millennials won’t take a job from a company that does not exhibit strong CSR. About 83 percent of millennials are more loyal to companies that exhibit strong CSR and 75 percent would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.

“Company culture is big right now and studies are showing that people will make career decisions based on company culture and values,” communications & development for United Way, Kristi Birkeland said. “United Way works closely with businesses from the corporate level to the individual employee to try and give everyone an outlet to do good in Whatcom County.”

What’s unique about the program is that it highlights the partnership between United Way and the companies, process engineering team lead for Phillips 66, Heather Milligan said.

“Its more than just a donation,” Milligan said. “By creating bonds with people and understanding where that money goes it helps people feel more connected to what they are giving.”

The community impact panel is another way that people can get involved. The panel consists of about 50 local volunteers that review new program applications and make funding recommendations. The committee of volunteers also reviews existing partnerships to ensure they are continuing to have a positive impact.

“The community really does have a say on how the money is used,” Milligan said.


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