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United Way starts fundraising early, aims to raise $10M by Labor Day to help Tri-State families

'Bold action is what's required now'
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Posted at 3:00 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 15:01:06-04

United Way of Greater Cincinnati is kicking off its annual fundraising campaign today — three months early — to try to help the region’s many families who are hurting as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

The organization hopes to raise $10 million by Labor Day, a goal that United Way CEO Moira Weir called “ambitious” and said is double the amount typically raised in a summer.

“We know the community needs us more today than ever before. The demand is increasing every day," Weir said during an online news conference Tuesday, adding that many families in need lost their incomes overnight. “There is desperate need in our community."

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Moira Weir will become the first female CEO of United Way of Greater Cincinnati in March.

Procter & Gamble Co. has pledged to match the first $1 million donated to the campaign in new or incremental gifts.

“This is the time to act," P&G CEO David Taylor said during the news conference. "The need is so great that we're going to need many shoulders against this."

People across the Tri-State continue to need help, even as parts of the local economy reopen. A news release from United Way said:

  • Brighton Center of Northern Kentucky has seen a 300% increase in families asking for help with basic needs during the crisis.
  • Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio delivered 7,500 emergency food boxes to isolated senior citizens in the region. Each box contained a 14-day supply of food.
  • Freestore Foodbank is spending five time what it typically spends on distributing food to Tri-State people in need.
  • Homeless shelter operators such as Bethany House Services are paying for hotel rooms to serve people experiencing homelessness and help them practice proper social distancing.

As the chairman of this year’s United Way campaign, Taylor is working with a team of 80 local business leaders with a goal of raising a total of $50 million by the end of this year. He’s also pushing to reach potential new donors who don’t give to United Way through workplace campaigns.

“We know only a fraction of people in the Greater Cincinnati area have the opportunity to give to the United Way at their workplace,” he said in the news release. “And there are countless others across the Tri-State who generously want to give back in a meaningful way to help address the challenges we’re currently facing.”

This summer phase of the campaign will focus on reaching individual donors in a variety of ways including a new website platform at uwgc.org/united and text giving. People can text waytohelp to 50503.

Traditional workplace campaigns will start in the fall.

Taylor was not originally scheduled to chair this year's United Way campaign. But he said former P&G CEO John Pepper asked him last year if he would step forward to lead the effort, and Taylor agreed.

Taylor acknowledged that $50 million will not be an easy goal to reach during the current economic crisis. But he said that's how much United Way needs to raise to meet the growing needs of the community, and he thinks it's possible.

The news release noted that United Way already has been responding to the COVID-19 crisis in other ways, including:

  • Allowing nonprofits that get funds from United Way to access their allocations early to help with emergency relief.
  • Working with the Greater Cincinnati Foundation to establish the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund. The fund has raised more than $7 million and already has pushed out more than $6 million into the community.
  • Establishing its 211 Center as a one-stop resource for COVID relief.
  • Reaching out to more partners, such as faith-based and community-based organizations, to make sure relief work reaches all communities.
  • Delivering iPads to help isolated senior citizens connect with their families.
  • Creating a partnership with Hamilton County Job & Family Services to deliver tens of thousands of dollars in gift cards to people applying for food assistance so they can get food before their applications are approved.
  • Connecting United Way 211 and Meals on Wheels to reach out to senior citizens who are living alone to ask if they need other social services.
  • Delivering what will eventually be more than 1 million masks and thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer donated by P&G to social service agencies and faith-based and community-based organizations.

“We are proud of our response, but we know there is so much more to do if we are to recover and revitalize as a community,” Weir said in the release. “United Way is equipped and prepared to meet those challenges. Every dollar invested in this effort will help us achieve powerful outcomes.”

The last couple of years have been challenging for United Way.

The controversy surrounding the October 2018 departure of Michael Johnson, United Way ‘s first-ever African American CEO, laid bare internal divisions at a time when the organization was struggling to raise money.

The 2018 campaign closed out with just over $50 million in pledges, roughly $12 million less than United Way raised in 2015. It resulted in less funding for the more than 140 nonprofit organizations that get money from United Way each year.

The 2019 campaign raised enough by last November to avoid additional cuts but fell short of its $50.5 million goal.

United Way announced in January that Weir would be its next CEO, the first woman ever to hold the job at the organization in its more than 100-year-old history.

She started the job in March, a week earlier than expected, to work on United Way’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

More information about United Way’s summer campaign and how to donate is available online. To text a donation, text waytohelp to 50503.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.