United Way of Fort Smith Area's annual giving campaign is off to a million dollar start. The organization announced at its Kick-off event on Wednesday (Sept. 25) and announced that its Pacesetter companies had raised more than one million dollars for the community.
Held at the Holiday Inn City Center in Fort Smith, the Kick-off focused on campaign teams and team spirit. Staff and volunteers sported United Way jerseys and "huddled up" at tables throughout the room.
Tom Minton, United Way Executive Director, welcomed the crowd and began by recognizing senior loaned executives and their teams who call on accounts during the campaign. He also thanked guests for their support and noted that he was continually amazed at the time volunteers give to help United Way and its agencies.
Leading the campaign this year is the 2013 Chairman, Bill Hanesworth. Hanesworth, a retired Rheem vice president, took to the stage and explained that part of his mission as chair was to help the community understand what United Way really does.
"One of the year's goals for our campaign was to raise awareness of United Way's impact in the Arkansas and Oklahoma communities it serves," said Hanesworth. "This need to raise awareness became the genesis for the year's campaign theme, "Did you know?"
As part of the "Did you know?" theme, United Way organized a video highlighting the work it does in the community and how donor dollars are spent. The videos are used during campaign presentations as a way to tell the organization's story.
In 2012, United Way raised more than $2.1 million dollars for the community. For this year's campaign, the organization's goal was to focus on increasing overall participation, with the hope that total giving would go up, as well.
Several companies had significant increases in their overall participation and employee giving. Baldor increased its total contributions by 59% over the previous year. Golden Living raised 71% more in special event dollars compared to its 2012 total.
Arkansas Best Corporation was the largest overall contributor. The company, which has a long history of supporting United Way and its Partner agencies, matches employee campaign contributions dollar for dollar.
Twenty-four companies and organizations signed on as Pacesetters for the 2013 campaign. Each conducted its drive in August, giving the community a jumpstart on fundraising efforts and thus, setting "the pace" of the campaign. Historically, nearly half of all campaign dollars are raised by the Pacesetters.
USA Truck took home the "Pacesetter of the Year" Award. The company was given the honor for having the highest Pacesetter criteria score. The award is based on a number of factors, including increased participation and giving.
Following the award announcement, volunteers gathered near the stage to pick up their signs. Going down the row, each flipped a numbered sign, revealing that the Pacesetters had raised $1,046,753.
"There are no words to express the thanks we have for what these Pacesetter companies have accomplished this year, " said Mitzy Little, United Way resource development and marketing director. "With the loss of Whirlpool as a Pacesetter company, we were worried that our Pacesetter total would be down. Instead, those companies have stepped up and together are making up the difference."
The 2013 Pacesetter companies are Arkansas Best Corporation, Arvest Bank, AT&T, Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus, Baldor Electric Company, BancorpSouth, Benefit Bank, Brown Hiller Clark & Associate, Citizens Bank & Trust, Community National Bank, Experian, Farmers Bank, First National Bank of Fort Smith, Golden Living, Greenwood Public School, Hanna Oil & Gas, Kraft/Planters, Liberty Bank of Arkansas, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Pernod Ricard USA, Rheem Manufacturing Corporation, Simmons First National Bank, UPS-Fort Smith, UPS-Sallisaw, and USA Truck, Inc.
The campaign will continue through the next several months, with a "Wrap-up" event to be held in April 2014. Companies or individuals interested in contributing can donate online or can contact United Way at (479) 782-1311.