More funds than ever before were raised by the United Way this year, setting a 10-week campaign record of $31,529,000.
The announcement was made by 2011 campaign chair and CTV Ottawa's Community Ambassador Max Keeping at an achievement celebration held at the Canadian Museum of Nature on Thursday, Dec. 1. Supporters rose to their feet in a standing ovation to cheer the results as coloured streamers arced across the stage.
"What an amazing 10 weeks this has been. I have had the time of my life and thousands of others have also been on an incredible ride," Keeping told the gathering, thanking donors for their generosity and his co-chairs, "the thousands of you who put your heart and soul into this year's campaign. Your dedication and passion for community have inspired thousands of people to donate.
"When you see the many faces of Ottawa, the heartbreaking and genuine needs of too many and the astonishing generosity of so many - what an amazing place we call home. What an amazing hometown we have. I love it."
The majority of the funds were raised by the region's public sector. Last week, the 2011 Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign (GCWCC) announced it raised an impressive $23.1 million, more half of United Way Ottawa's achievement to date. Keeping called the group the most generous workplace donors in the entire nation, telling the crowd GCWCC promised another million-dollar donation before the books were closed.
He told the EMC the average donation from a public sector employee last year was $303, attributing this generosity to daily efforts on the part of federal employees to improve the country as well as their keen awareness of the community in which they live.
"United Way is the biggest reflector of the city's generosity. On any given night there's usually five major fund-raisers and on 20 weekends of the year we donate more than a million dollars to charities. We volunteer more hours on a per capita basis than anywhere else in the country. With Children's Hospital (CHEO) we give more per capita than 169 others on the continent. The statistical evidence is there," Keeping said. "I call it a civic culture of compassion. Every city, every community you go into, people are generous and they're caring, but this city, it just seems to part of the DNA. We do it: we recognize there's a need and we go out to meet that need. It's part of our culture. When I look at all the other major metropolitan cities, we're far and away the most caring."
Other highlights of this year's campaign include the high-tech community raising more than $2-million, the first sector to hit the $1-million dollar mark in the first five weeks of the campaign, Scotiabank raised more than $310,000 this year through their workplace campaign, corporate gift and charity auction, Belair Direct and JP Morgan Chase employees more than doubled their campaign goals, raising $69,700 and $40,000 respectively, and Turnbull School and Heenan Blakie LLP each had a 100 per cent participation rate from their employees.
While the sum was stellar, it fell short of the ambitious $33.5-million target set by the agency Sept. 22.
Keeping, who has volunteered with the agency for more than 20 years, said it wasn't unusual for the United Way to come up short by the end of the official campaign, pointing out the last time the goal had been reached by touchdown was in 2006. United Way board chair Rick Gibbons reiterated the message of optimism in his address saying, "The campaign will roll forward for another few weeks. We encourage those campaigns that haven't wrapped up to keep going, maybe we even have a couple out there that are just getting underway. So we sometimes hold ourselves a little bit hostage to our own calendar and what we really like is that right into the new year - as we did last year, as we've done year after year - we've kept the vaults open, we've welcomed dollars continually coming in and we know that's going to happen."
United Way chief executive officer Michael Allen told the EMC while the agency set for its agenda a 10-week campaign, many of its supporters organized longer campaigns or held on-going campaigns that ran throughout the year.
"Many, many organizations now want to run their campaigns on their time. So we have to be respectful of that, if it works in their cycles it has to be what works for us and not the other way around," Allen said. "This is very common for most United Ways now, that the amount of money they raise in terms of their overall annual objective is only partly realized in the campaign timeframe. And many, of course, don't have a campaign timeframe now that ends in December, many of them go on right until the end of the fiscal year."
Allen said with United Way Ottawa's fiscal year ending in March, there was time enough to meet the objective, especially with more than 300 local workplace campaigns still to be completed.
Last year's target of $33.1 million was not reached until the end of January.
"It's been a great campaign from so many respects but we have work yet to do," Allen said. "We're going to very much celebrate tonight the generosity of donors - it is the record for us in terms of our 10 weeks of our campaign - but so many campaigns are still ongoing and there's still work to be done. So we'll celebrate tonight but we're going to carry on."
Over the years the United Way has been very successful in conveying to donors the importance of their gifts, Allen said, transcending transcended economic difficulties observed in the community and with certain employers.
"The federal government is an example of that, there are uncertainties there. But my gosh, they were amazingly strong and as usual fast campaign But those things will unfold in the wholeness of time and we'll have to work hard and again convey to donors how important it is - their gifts can make a difference," Allen said.
Despite the fact many face uncertain employment and tough economic times ahead, United Way donors have mobilized in making an even greater effort to invest in their community, Allen said.
"I think (the economy) does impact donors in that their empathy is sensitized. They realize if they're struggling if they're having difficulties, people who have other challenges in their lives - more so than they might have - absolutely need more help. And so people tend to be very generous," he said.
Allen said United Way Ottawa is unique in that a higher percentage of donations - 93 per cent - come from individuals rather than corporations as in the case in other cities.
"The other part of that is we're a very generous community. One in six people donate to their United Way campaign. That's twice as many as in Toronto, three times as many as Montreal - and it's one in 42 in Vancouver. So we're a community that's extraordinarily generous," he said, describing Ottawa as "a big city with a small town heart."
Keeping and other community leaders have set the tone that is part of today's culture in this city, he said, showing by example that people go out and support community engagement and participation in their social and everyday business lives. This has become a characteristic of this market, with the United Way a beneficiary of that mindset.
This year's campaign was marked by very strong support from new businesses, Allen said, with more than 22 new campaigns initiated by them - the most in the last five years.
"We also had very strong commitment at the leadership and major donor level in the federal government, more donors at that higher level of giving. We'd like to think that's because of the work that we've done to transform our business and to allow donors to be more thoughtful and deliberate about the kind of investment they're making, not just the gifts they're giving or what kind of results we hope to generate, I think that appealed to federal public servants," Allen said.
The United Way has become more deliberate and focus on where funding is allocated, with the expectation the agency's funding can drive change. Allen said while charitable giving still has a role to play in supporting people and organizations, more donors are hoping to make the type of investment in their community that will result in change in the lives of seniors, people with disabilities, new Canadians, children and people facing crisis. Today's donor is more akin to a philanthropist, he said, endeavoring to improve the lives of others and asking for accountability from the agencies the United Way supports.
"Donors increasingly, with have so many choices, so many options and so many needs - and there are legitimate needs - they want to know at least in some part of their giving that they're making a real investment and a change in the community itself. This is not something the United Way has exclusively championed, this is what donors are asking for. Many donors are asking, 'what difference is my donation making?' And so in many respects we are responding to the kind of things donors are asking us, and rightly so: what difference is the investment we are making resulting in change?
"With so many choices I think that's the value of United Way's work, that we can look at the community impartially, we can look at the needs we believe where we can make a difference. Our promise to donors is that we will invest their dollars where they're needed most, where they will make the greatest difference. And that's what we have to deliver on."
United Way continues to accept donations through its web site at www.unitedwayottawa.ca or by phone at 613-228-6767.