The United Way of the Plains’ annual fundraising campaign, a barometer for charitable giving in and around Wichita, fell short of its goal this year.
The nonprofit raised $14.3 million, officials announced Friday – $700,000 short of this year’s goal and the lowest amount raised by the organization in a decade.
Leaders said that likely will mean cuts in funding to local nonprofit groups.
“The board of directors has asked our grants review committee to look at the various requests from agencies and determine an appropriate level of cutting,” said Pat Hanrahan, president and chief executive of United Way of the Plains.
“We’ll look at priorities and needs and see where we go from there.”
Campaign chairman Jeff Beasley, vice president for customer care at Westar Energy, said he was proud of this year’s effort, which will continue to make a difference for local nonprofits.
$15 million United Way’s 2015 fundraising goal
$14.3 million Amount raised by 2015 campaign
“They worked hard, and they gave us everything they could to get to the total that we’re at,” Beasley said. “So we’re very happy with the way things came out, all things considered.”
This year’s tally was announced during a campaign celebration luncheon of about 800 people at the Century II Convention Center.
The last time the local United Way fell short of its fundraising goal was 2009, when it raised $15.8 million. Since then the group has met or surpassed its annual goals. Last year it raised $15.1 million.
After the shortfall in 2009, the agency cut about $1 million in funding to local nonprofit organizations. On average, Wichita nonprofits received about 9 percent less funding that year.
One reason for the decline in giving this year could be “the beginning waves of baby boomers retiring,” Hanrahan said. The bulk of United Way fundraising happens in workplaces, and research shows people 50 and older give the most money to charities, he said.
This year, for the first time, United Way of the Plains lifted its blackout restriction on member agencies, allowing them to continue their own fundraising during the United Way campaign. Asked whether he thought that may have had an effect on United Way totals, Hanrahan said, “It’s too soon to know.”
Friday’s luncheon featured an update on the United Way’s “Be There” initiative, an effort aimed at reducing chronic absenteeism at Wichita-area schools.
The campaign features online resources, public service announcements, billboards and a pilot project at seven Wichita elementary schools – Dodge, Franklin, Gardiner, Harry Street, Lawrence, Payne and Stanley – where more than $375,000 in grants is helping to fund Check & Connect, a nationally recognized attendance intervention program.
“For many years we have worked on the issue of attendance, and we just never seemed to be getting anywhere with it,” said Julie Bettis, principal at Harry Street Elementary. “With this new program, we’re starting to see a difference.
“Your support and this help is making a difference and making it so that (students) can reach those dreams.”
Jessica Smith, a Check & Connect coordinator at Franklin Elementary, related a story about three students being raised by their 70-year-old grandmother, who had health issues, felt overwhelmed and struggled with getting the children to school. During the first four weeks of school, the students had three unexcused absences and eight tardies.
Smith visited the family’s home and helped the grandmother develop a time schedule and chore chart for the kids, and offered the younger students incentives to get to school on time. She also linked the grandmother with community support programs.
“These three children have had only three tardies and no absences as of today, since I’ve been involved with the family,” Smith said, prompting applause from the luncheon audience.
The new Check & Connect program “gives me the time and resources to help a parent understand the need for their child to be present and on time as well as to have a structured daily routine,” she said. “I’m excited to see the outcomes reached by each student by the end of this school year.”
Friday’s program honored 14 local employers designated as part of the “Chairman’s Circle” for having donated between $150,000 and $999,999: Airbus, Cargill, city of Wichita, Davis-Moore Auto Group, Dillons, Fidelity Bank, Intrust Bank, Johnson Controls, Koch Industries, Learjet, QuikTrip, Via Christi Health, Wesley Healthcare and Wichita Public Schools.
Textron Aviation – representing Beechcraft, Cessna, Hawker and the Uplift Employees Fund – raised $2.5 million, making it one of two “Million Dollar Circle” donors.
Spirit AeroSystems and its employees’ Good Neighbor Fund raised $2 million.
Officials announced that Jeff Van Sickle, chief executive for GLMV Architecture, will chair the 2016 fundraising campaign.
Hanrahan said that although this year’s campaign fell short of the goal, “There were still a lot of positives.”
“Wichitans and south-central Kansans … continue to be generous people,” he said. “Once in a while you have a downward blip, and we’ll just regroup. Now we’re starting on next year.”