While giving in Gainesville is great, the need is even greater. We talked to organizations that work to provide a host of social services, help nonprofits become more effective and provide ways for people to leave a legacy that benefits the community.
When it comes to charity, Gainesville is a paradox.
On one hand, the community’s needs are relatively great, with nearly one in four residents living below the federal poverty line and the struggles of the poor growing. On the other hand, the community giving to charity is above average, with the United Way of North Central Florida ranking second in dollars raised among United Way agencies of its size in Florida.
Against the backdrop of big needs, the United Way is asking the community to dig deeper as it launches this year’s community campaign. The campaign, which started July 1 and will continue through June 30, has a goal of $3.8 million—a more than 15 percent increase above last year’s goal of $3.3 million.
But United Way President and CEO Debbie Mason says the organization would need three times last year’s totals just to meet the current identified need.
The community needs have very human faces, she says. According to the United Way’s research, more than half of local second graders who participate in the United Way’s Dental, Sealant and Smiles Initiative have never seen a toothbrush, and more than 600 school children in the county identified themselves as homeless. The actual numbers of homeless children could be more than twice that number because of kids’ reluctance to admit their homelessness, Mason believes.
The waiting list for Meals on Wheels, which provides hot meals to the elderly, exceeds 700, and only 21 percent of the 20,000 people who call the United Way’s 2-1-1 assistance hotline can receive services because of limited funding.
“It’s not that nonprofits aren’t doing a fabulous job—they are doing a fabulous job,” Mason says. “The need is just so great.”
United Way Ties Together Giving
The local United Way focuses on funding and developing programs that serve the community in the areas of education, health and income assistance.
While the United Way raised $3.4 million last year to help its 28 member agencies carry out United Way programs, roughly $6.4 million additionally was brought in through matching grants. This means that for every dollar donated to the United Way, the community received two additional dollars of benefit.
For example, ElderCare of Alachua County, Inc., received approximately $50,000 from United Way to fund Meals on Wheels. In addition to the United Way funds, Meals on Wheels received $500,000 in matching grants, dramatically increasing the impact of United Way funds. The Early Learning Coalition gets a 16-to-one match for its School Readiness program, which offers subsidized childcare to working parents. That program turns $100,000 of United Way funds into $1.6 million.
These programs are just two of nearly 30 run by 17 organizations under the United Way’s umbrella.
Rather than choosing between a program that helps feed homeless children and another that improves graduation rates, the United Way donors can give one gift to help nearly 30 programs, Mason says.
“The United Way is a one-of-a-kind organization,” she says. “The number one reason donors give to the United Way is that it helps the entire community. It’s the power of the cumulative gift.”
Many community leaders are responding to the need. Among them are United Way campaign chair Bill Gair, Nick Banks of Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group and Marty Goodkind of SunBelt Moving & Delivery.
When Banks relocated to Gainesville from South Florida, he didn’t realize the need that existed in his new community. In South Florida, he says, the need is evident. In Gainesville, it’s hidden.
He makes philanthropy, through Front Street Invested, an integral part of his business and allocates the first 10 percent of all brokerage revenue to organizations like the United Way. At first, he was afraid that donating that heavily would cut into his bottom line, he says. However, the benefits have surpassed his expectations, and he doesn’t see the donations as a cost, he says.
Since each check from Front Street Invested is presented in the name of the company’s clients, his clients have increased their awareness of need and increased their own giving, Banks says. His emphasis on giving has helped Banks form a staff with a “team-first” mentality.
“Our clients and the community have embraced us in a way I don’t think would have been possible if we hadn’t rolled out this program,” Banks says. “It’s given people a reason to talk about us and promote us for the things we do in the community.”