2020 is the year of change for United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN).
The organization, which provides funding to regional non-profit agencies and operates local programs like Buddy Backpacks and Imagination Library, underwent a leadership transition this year, established COVID-19 crisis funds for individuals and non-profits on the Iron Range and Koochiching County, and has adapted its programs and events to operate safely throughout the pandemic.
But above it all the biggest change has loomed: how to conduct workplace campaigns.
“With the health and safety measures in place, we knew that meeting with thousands of people in our region face-to-face like we are used to just wouldn’t be possible this year,” said UWNEMN Executive Director Erin Shay.
Funds raised through workplace campaigns account for more than 70 percent of UWNEMN’s budget each year, and in a year that the need for programs and services are expected to be higher than ever, UWNEMN staff knew it was imperative to adjust – and adjust now, Shay added.
The result? A customizable campaign season with a variety of options for both in-person and virtual meetings.
“We want to meet people where they are at – whether that means meeting in person, doing Zoom presentations, or creating personalized web sites with electronic brochures and videos for employers to share directly with their employees,” said Resource Development & Events Director Elizabeth Kelly. “We also want people to know that even if we don’t go to their workplace, they can still support our work.
There are all kinds of ways to Give Where You Live.”
UWNEMN’s new online giving platform makes it possible for anyone to donate to the organization. Options include one-time donations, monthly donations, and new “round-up” donations which allow donors to connect a debit or credit card of their choice to round purchases up to the nearest dollar, donating spare change directly to UWNEMN.
“We want people to have say over not only how but where they invest in their community,” Kelly said. “All dollars and cents donated by Iron Range individuals to UWNEMN stay here, and donors can also designate their donations to specific programs or agencies.”
Dollars raised through UWNEMN’s campaign provide funding for local non-profit agencies working to address the organization’s focus areas: Empowering Healthy Lives, Helping Children Succeed, and Stabilizing Families and Individuals. Last year, campaign donations helped support 19 non-profit agencies across the Iron Range.
Campaign funds also support UWNEMN’s in-house programs: Buddy Backpacks, Comforts of Home, Imagination Library, Lunch Buddies Mentoring, Meet Up & Chow Down, Smiles United, and United for Veterans.
The programs themselves illustrate UWNEMN’s unique position to adapt to change, noted Community Impact Coordinator Michelle Lampton.
“I think one of the reasons our organization has handled all the COVID-19 changes as well as we have is because we have a history of being nimble and constantly adapting to community needs,” she said. “Because we are independently operated, we can respond immediately when a need arises in our community.
Every single one of our UWNEMN programs that people know and love were started because someone in our community came to us and told us about a need that wasn’t being met.”
The transition to digital transcends fundraising. Applications for agencies applying for campaign funding – and applications for individuals and agencies in need of COVID-19 crisis funds – have also moved online. This move online has streamlined much of UWNEMN’s work, helping the organization to keep their fundraising and administration costs below 10 percent.
“We are proud of that number and proud of what it says about us,” Shay said. “For years we have been seen only as a fundraising group, but we are so much more than that.
We work every day to unite Game Changers across our region – agencies, volunteers, donors, programs – to have a lasting and direct impact on people’s lives.”
To apply for funding, click here.
To donate, click here.
To inquire about volunteering, click here.
Workplaces interested in in-person or virtual campaigns can contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.