After struggling to meet fundraising goals year after year, United Way of the Lowcountry announced on Thursday a more modest 2013 campaign target of $2.3 million -- about $500,000 less than last year.
However, the amount is still about $80,000 more than it raised in the 2012 campaign.
The nonprofit organization, under new leadership since January, took a more scientific approach this year to assessing the area's needs and fundraising opportunities, agency Chairman Chris McCorkendale said.
"This won't be a cake walk, but we believe this number is reasonable and it's attainable, and it's so much more than a monetary figure," McCorkendale told about 100 people at the Inn at Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton at the campaign kickoff.
While United Way exceeded its 2007 campaign target by raising more than $2.7 million, it has experienced shortfalls each year since. Between 2008 and 2012, the chapter has brought in more than $12 million, but came up short of its annual goals by a total of about $1 million.
Last year, the organization raised about 80 percent of its $2.8 million target.
"We had a challenge in the past, but it's a new day, and we are extremely confident we will reach this year's goal," said Tina Gentry, who replaced 35-year veteran Clarece Walker as the agency's president and CEO.
She said she hopes to bolster fundraising by educating people about United Way's services.
Along with supporting more than 44 programs in 33 agencies, United Way embarked on a campaign in 2012 to improve reading in elementary schools. Of the students who worked with tutors last year, some of whom were supported by United Way, 98 percent of Jasper County students and 97 percent of Beaufort County students saw increased math scores, Gentry said.
Before the campaign kicked off Thursday, about 20 AmeriCorps members raised their hands in a pledge to mark the beginning of their year of service, tutoring 5- and 6-year-olds across the region.
One of the volunteers, Rosa Mae Simmons of St. Helena Island, said she hadn't realized United Way was involved in outreach to schools.
"Reading is so important, and I just wanted to give back," she said.
Gentry also hopes to spread the word about the organization's helpline, which refers people to the appropriate agencies or provides immediate assistance. Last week, the office received 53 calls or walk-ins, including a mother who was new to the area and seeking information about support for victims of domestic violence. In addition to phone numbers, she walked out with school supplies for her kids, Gentry said.
"Sometimes there's no agency to offer to people, but we can't let them walk out the door without helping them," she added.
Another visitor to the office had been a rape victim and could not return home. The hospital sent her to United Way when the domestic-violence shelter was full for the night. The organization paid for a safe place to stay until a bed opened the next day, Gentry said.
"I don't think people understand everything we do, so I'd like to share that message," she said.
Want to give?
To find out how to donate to the United Way of the Lowcountry, go to uwlowcountry.org or call 843-982-3040 in Beaufort, 843-837-2000 in southern Beaufort County, or 843-645-6500 in Jasper County.
Video by Jay Karr
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.