Fiscal realities hit the United Way of the Lowcountry's goal for its annual fundraising campaign.
For the first time since 2009, the group has dropped its goal from the year before, and we can see why.
This year, United Way aims to raise $2.3 million, down $500,000 from last year's ambitious $2.8 million goal. Unfortunately, the campaign brought in only $2.21 million.
Setting a high goal is laudable. The money helps fund 33 agencies and 44 programs in Beaufort and Jasper counties. And in 2011, United Way came tantalizingly close to reaching its $2.8 million goal, the highest ever set, coming up just $100,000 short.
But with a $579,000 shortfall last year, it clearly was time to readjust. In fact, United Way hadn't reached its goal since the 2007 campaign, when it brought in more than $2.7 million.
Five years straight of not reaching the campaign goal had to have taken a toll -- starting with the morale of the many volunteers across the two counties who work so hard to raise money.
But it also had to have taken a toll on United Way's planning, as well as planning for member agencies. United Way funding is an important part of their budgets, and sound budgeting requires accurate revenue estimates. Matching up expectations more closely with likely income will help do that.
That said, a lower goal does not mean the demand for help has decreased. If anything, tough economic times have only driven it higher. The annual goal is based on United Way's broad-based assessment of the community's needs and the work of the agencies it supports.
United Way has made education a key building block for a stronger community. In 2012, it embarked on a campaign 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, reported Tina Gentry, United Way's new president and CEO.
At Thursday's kickoff, 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.
Gentry also wants to make sure people know about United Way's helpline, which refers people to the appropriate agencies or provides immediate help. The week before the kickoff, the office fielded 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 children.
This community, made up mostly of individual donors, is generous. Even though United Way hasn't reached its annual goal for the past five years, it must be noted that we donated more than $12.3 million to help our neighbors.
We're confident we can reach -- and even surpass -- this year's $2.3 million goal. Please consider giving and volunteering.