United Way of Albany County successfully met its 2015 fundraising goal — the highest dollar mark ever set for the annual campaign.
To put the $440,000 goal in perspective, the first United Way of Albany County campaign in 1958 set the mark at just less than $38,000. For 2011, it was set at an even $375,000.
After bumping up the goal for 2015 by $10,000 from the 2014 amount, Executive Director Paul Heimer said United Way was stretching to reach the higher mark, but exceeded it by more than $8,000 (the final amount is to be determined in coming days). Around 1,000 donors in Laramie Albany County contributed to the 2015 campaign.
“We are grateful for every donation we get,” Heimer said. “We try to be responsible with every dollar (donors) give us so it does what people want — that’s to make Laramie a better place to live.”
The goal amount is approved by the United Way of Albany County Board of Directors, which Heimer said is partly based upon the growth from previous years and projections for possible growth in the current year — including general business climate in specific sectors in Laramie.
Heimer said he initially suggested setting the 2015 goal at $435,000, but one of the campaign’s co-chairs, David Bagley, said he wanted to stretch the amount to see how far it could go.
“He said, ‘If you don’t try to stretch it, if you don’t try to go for a little extra, maybe we’ll have to cut somebody’s services being provided to the community,’” Heimer said. “That’s the last thing we want to do, so it’s a worthwhile effort to stretch it. We sweated over it, but we made it with some dollars to spare.”
David Bagley served as co-chair of the campaign committee with his wife, Catherine Bagley.
He said there were concerns people’s ability to donate to the campaign might be negatively affected by a troubling economic outlook in Wyoming. But by exceeding the goal, David Bagley said they would be able to provide more help to the 16 member agencies of United Way of Albany County.
“I felt confident the rest of (Albany County) would be able to do at least what we did last year,” David Bagley said. “Catherine and I were really privileged to serve as co-chairs and we’re really delighted the overall campaign goal has been reached.”
Many of the agencies United Way supports in Albany County have faced difficult fiscal situations in recent years for a variety of reasons, Heimer said.
“Everybody is feeling the pinch financially,” he said. “Many folks are asked to do more with less — sometimes considerably less.”
With the daunting task of a landmark goal, Heimer said volunteer committee members make the difference. The pacesetter committee, headed by Mike Peck of First Interstate Bank in 2015, solicits larger donations from local businesses. A “fabulous” crew of people at the University of Wyoming — including campaign chairs Dave Bagley and Catherine Bagley (both are faculty members at UW), as well as campus committee co-chair Kim Zaft — all played critical roles in raising money, Heimer said.
“Their willingness to ask for money is a big thing,” Heimer said. “They believe in and understand the mission.”
David Bagley said he was hopeful the amount contributed by UW employees could be increased from previous years. With the goal for UW set at $115,000 — an increase from the previous year — he said pledges topped $120,000. Based on experience on the campus committee with Zaft, David Bagley said new things were tried to achieve that level of success.
One new approach was reaching out to the student community. One example of how that was done was by working out a deal with Cowboy Country Swing Club. The club hosts swing dances Thursday evenings at the Wyoming Union, and Bagley said a deal was worked out where one evening’s proceeds would all go to United Way. UW President Dick McGinity’s office also played an important role by encouraging people on campus to remember the importance of the United Way, David Bagley said.
The mission of United Way, Heimer said, is to serve as an umbrella for all human service agencies.
“In most communities — including Laramie — (United Way) helps these agencies through extensive financial support,” Heimer said. “It provides a structure for networking and a vision for how to move a community forward in meeting needs.”
The resources provided by the agencies United Way supports in Albany County cover a wide away of needs, Heimer said. In a letter to UW’s incoming president, Laurie Nichols, Heimer said he emphasized how much is provided just to students through the agencies United Way helps support.
“Most people’s lives on campus are made better by one or multiple of our member agencies — and it doesn’t even end there,” Heimer said.
Heimer said the member agencies are part of the “economic engine” in Laramie and Albany County, as well as providing for basic needs of many residents.
Without the support of United Way, Heimer said people might not be able to seek hospice care for loved ones in the late stages of life. It could be more difficult for the American Red Cross of Wyoming for the Albany County Area to respond to a natural disaster. Troubled teens would not have a safe place to go in the Youth Crisis Center.
“Each agency has its own story to tell and focuses on its own area of expertise,” Heimer said. “Many of those services would be cut or eliminated (without United Way funding).”
Some of the agencies require the funding to secure matches from state and federal agencies, Heimer said. Developmental Preschool and Daycare, for example, are required to come up with a 3-percent local match.
“For every $3 we give them, they get $97,” Heimer said. “That’s leveraging to the max.”
A combination of factors made the 2015 campaign a success, David Bagley said. But he said he does not know where United Way of Albany County would be without the leadership of its executive director, Paul Heimer.
“I don’t know if he’d admit it or not, but he does a tremendous amount of work,” David Bagley said. “We couldn’t achieve the things we do without his leadership.”
History of United Way of Albany County campaigns
*final number to be determined in coming days
** first year in Albany County