United Way sets optimistic goal this year

This year’s United Way campaign got underway recently, and organizers are optimistically aiming to raise $900,000.

Years ago that would not have seemed like a stretch, by any means.

The United Way, for example, hit a high point in 2001 when its annual campaign raised $1.4 million, and the campaign hovered around the million-dollar mark for several years.

But times have changed, largely because of social media and a younger generation, and the United Way has faced some of the same challenges churches have seen as far as attracting people to its cause.

Last year’s United Way goal was $875,000, and Diane Candido, campaign chair along with her husband, Tony, and Alderman Ray Vitali, said the goal was almost reached. But not quite.

She said she would have been comfortable leaving the target at $875,000 again this year.

“But this year’s cabinet is a very intent group,” she said with a smile.

The initial plan was to set this year’s goal at about $880,000, slightly up from last year’s goal, but the “enthusiastic” cabinet members said they wanted to reach for $900,000.

Several years ago Diane Nytko, a previous campaign chairman, speculated that declining funds were due to the economy and partly due to bad press the United Way got several years ago on the national level. But Nytko pointed out that the money donated to the United Way of Milford stays in Milford: 99% of the funds collected here go to the United Way of Milford, and 1% goes to United Way Worldwide as dues.

President/CEO of the United Way of Milford Gary Johnson has said declining United Way contributions are more closely related to a changing society.

Social media has given rise to sharing of information about special causes — the GoFundMe site, for example, allows people to share in the personal struggles of people in need and send their donation dollars to those that appeal to them most.

“As older people retire and newer millennials are coming into the workforce, giving habits are different,” Johnson said last year when the agency set off to remarket itself. “They’re not responding. People want it to be personal.”

Businesses have changed, too. Whereas companies once hosted United Way representatives to make presentations to employees about the services the agency offers, that doesn’t happen as much anymore. Johnson said companies are often too busy for those presentations, and many have switched to a more staff-directed designation of philanthropic giving rather than those goals being established company-wide.

The United Way of Milford hasn’t changed that much over the years. It helps support 20 local agencies, and that list hasn’t changed dramatically in the 60 years the agency has existed in Milford. Money raised goes to the Milford Prevention Council, Beth El Homeless Shelter, Scouts, Boys & Girls Club, the local mental health agency Bridges, the YMCA, Good Shepherd Day Care, the Milford Senior Center, and the Literacy Volunteers of Southern Connecticut, to name some of them. The agency has also provided money for people whose homes were destroyed by storms Sandy and Irene.

The United Way has been trying in recent years to spread a more personal message, focusing on how the United Way helps real people. For example, NBC Connecticut newswoman Heidi Voight spoke one year about how the agency helped her family when she was a child. This year, Betsy Nilan, who took over the Get In Touch Foundation when her mother, the founder, Mary Ann Wasil died, talked about how Get In Touch helps young girls learn to properly do self breast exams, with a goal of preventing breast cancer.

And a participant in the Big Sister program talked about how that program changed her life.

Johnson said he’s optimistic that the campaign will hit its $900,000 goal.

“I feel pretty good this year,” he said.

For more information, go to UnitedwayofMilford.org.