Sixteen-year-old Liz, left, and Megan Mace, of Edwardsburg, have found Internet fame after posting their videos on YouTube.
Adam Walsworth, 4, was the very last donor (of just over $19 in pennies) to "Pennies for Patients" a penny drive at the Berrien County Cancer Service, which provides specialized nursing care to cancer patients. The Berrien County Cancer Service is a United Way agency. The United Way continues to work toward funding various nonprofit organizations and service programs all over southwest Michigan.

Archived Story

Uniting the donor with the cause

Published 6:00am Saturday, November 7, 2009

Niles Daily Star

Drop a stone in water and the ripples will present themselves.

In the world of community giving United Way is a hefty stone in the water, a significant impact that creates continuous change.

The organization has been around for a while but recently a revamp of its branding has brought the organization back into focus. And the programs, nonprofit groups and area services helped by the allocation of funds that filter through United Way might agree: it couldn’t come at a better time.
“We are an organization that has a desire to see community change,” said Anna Murphy, president of United Way of Southwest Michigan. The organization essentially, “allocates (funds) to organizations that can help us to make that change.”

Organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Berrien County Council for Children and the Berrien County Cancer Service.

“It’s life changing for us here at Big Brothers Big Sisters,” executive director Kathy Rossow said. “They are a big part of our success.”

The organization is now looking at more than just delivering funds to needy services and programs. It’s facilitating change by educating donors and broadening its list of recipient organizations.
The question on the minds of many donors now, Murphy said, is “what impact did it have? What change did it make?

“The donor is more savvy,” Murphy said. “We need to measure and evaluate more effectively,” in order to inform donors on where their money is going and what kind of change it’s making.
The refocus of its brand has helped the organization in becoming more visible.
“People now recognize who we are but didn’t really know what we do,” Murphy said.
In its mission to provide considerable funding to so many organizations, the United Way focuses on a core set of objectives: help by way of education, income, health and basic needs.
Aspects of those objectives include ensuring children get a good education and graduate on time, working toward giving people the opportunity to gain more income and become self-sustaining, focusing on good health and providing for disaster relief programs and shelter services.
The United Way saw requests from more than 100 programs that felt they could help in focusing on those four core areas.

The requests are heavily reviewed by “investment teams” made up of volunteers, Murphy said, who ask the question “Did they fit the work that we want to achieve?”

“The community impact agenda was driving their decisions,” she said.

All of United Way’s work to, in a sense, reinvent itself translates into more than just allowing donators to see where their dollars are going – it’s allowing the people behind the donations to (start ital)feel(end ital) what their dollars are doing.

Like making a difference in the life of a child who benefits from a mentor that spends a lunch hour with them, helps them with their homework and helps shape their future. Something that wouldn’t be possible without the work of those at organizations like Big Brother Big Sisters.
Or the efforts made by those at the Berrien County Cancer Service, who provide specialized home nursing care to patients suffering from cancer.

And then there is the American Red Cross, which receives aid for its single family and community disaster relief program and Child and Family Services among many others.

In tough economic times such as these, such organizations have already taken a hit on their financial donations. Beneath it all is the continued effort by the United Way and its donators to keep as many services as possible, running as effectively as possible.

“United Way has always been able to assist the people in our communities with emergency needs by helping to fund the agencies that provide those services,” said Michael Ruelle, a member of the United Way of Southwest Michigan’s board of directors. “In the past we have measured our impact by the number of people serviced at these and other agencies. With our new focus on proactive solutions, we are working toward helping members of our community strengthen their skills and expand their resources so that they can better weather life’s challenges.”

Doing so is a challenge in itself – but one United Way continues to face head on.
Currently the United Way of Southwest Michigan is partnering with the United Way of Greater Niles, running their campaign to raise funds for area services. Murphy said that overall, the organization went into this campaign with lower goals than they had in a number of years.

Recognizing a growing population of young, community minded donators – Murphy recognizes the need to make giving something the social-networking fast paced group gets.

On Twitter feeds and Facebook pages the evidence that there is a growing movement of giving is relatively obvious – with organizations building followers, celebrities tweeting for causes and messages being spread faster than one might imagine.

Are there some resources that simply have to pull back considering the current economy? The answer is quite simply yes.

Still, Murphy said, “we are pleasantly surprised every day.

“My philosophy is to stay very optimistic,” she continued. “It’s tough. It’s probably the toughest campaign I’ve run.”

But, she added, “It’s going to come back around.”

Kind of like ripples through a pond.

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