United Way Campaign is study in creativity

United Way gets creative when it comes to raising funds.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

United Way gets creative when it comes to raising funds.

Finding ways to raise more money every year for United Way often means getting creative.

While 60 to 65 percent of all the funds raised annually for United Way come from personal and employee donations, Blount County shows both its creativity and its diversity when it comes to bringing it that remaining percent.

There are movies to see, golf games to play and motorcycle rides to take. There’s a lot of eating -- from tailgating to burger luncheons to bake sales to dinner at your favorite restaurant. You can get lost in a corn maze, pelt your office mate with a water balloon while he/she tries to escape on a tricycle. You can get skunked and dunked.

At the Kick Off Campaign Breakfast at the Airport Hilton at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 26, Lea Anne Law, United Way campaign chair, will announce the goal for the 2011 United Way campaign. The announcement gives the community, area businesses, citizens and the campaign committee something to work for, an amount that they know is needed to fill the many needs in Blount County.

But whatever the number, the work has already begun.

United Way of Blount County raises funds three different ways. In addition to the personal and employee contributions, corporate donations make up about 30 percent of the budget.

And then there are the United Way sponsored special events, which bring in 5 to 6 percent. There are seven special United Way events in Blount County this year: the United Way Golf Tournament, Go Big or Go Home Tailgate, Public Service Hamburger Luncheon, Back Roads Motor Cycle Ride, United Way Gas Day, What Matters on Your Platter Restaurant Campaign and the Maple Lane Farm Corn Maze.

Michelle Hankes, the CEO and president of the United Way of Blount County, said they welcomed two new special events this year, the Corn Maze and the Tailgate Party. The others have been around for a number of years, although committee chairs seem to find new and creative ways to improve and expand them each year.

“All of our event organizers have gotten very creative in thinking outside the box for us,” said Hankes. “It is fun watching the volunteers. They get very excited.”

United Way Golf Tournament

For example, the United Way Golf Tournament, in its 18th year, raised $27,000, a new record for the tournament, five percent higher than last year.

Hankes said the volunteers had to work hard in the tournament. “But it paid off. It is a good event, and it is our oldest event. Because it is our oldest, it makes the most money,” she said.

Chairs were David Connor and Matthew Bryan. Connor said community support was vital this year. “We had a great committee who were very active. We were able to solicit several new sponsorships. I think although we only had 180 players, we were able to offset the difference with new sponsorships and donations,” he said.

The golf tournament also is the first fundraising event of the campaign, giving the group some momentum going into kick off.

Public Service Hamburger Luncheon

Another example of expanding on a proven theme is the Public Service Hamburger Luncheon, chaired by Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher and supported by the county and city public service personnel. The burger luncheon traditionally is a one-day event, where public service personnel cook burgers at First Baptist Church of Maryville, selling burgers, fixings, chips, dessert and drinks for a $6 donation.

Hankes said the luncheon is as much a community get-together as it is a fundraiser. “You can buy a hamburger anywhere for $6, but when you come into the big community room at First Baptist Church of Maryville, you see hundreds of people sitting there, and it is a who’s-who of the community, and everyone is having fun,” Hankes said. “Bank presidents are sitting next to bank tellers having a good time eating a hamburger doing something good for the community.”

Goal for the Public Service Hamburger Luncheon, to be held Wednesday, Sept. 21, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. is $12,000. But something unexpected happened as Hatcher and Hankes looked for new ways to increase what the burger luncheon could do. Denso approached the group about bringing the luncheon to their workplace. On Aug. 19, Hatcher and his committee and volunteers grilled hamburgers for the staff on all three shifts at the different plants on the Denso property.

“They found a way to make more money by taking the show on the road to Denso,” said Hankes. “That is going to create a significant impact on their bottom line.”

Numbers aren’t exact yet, but Hatcher said preliminary numbers indicate they will clear approximately $5,500 on the Denso lunch.

Back Roads Motorcycle Ride

The United Way of Blount County Back Roads Motorcycle Ride has perhaps seen the biggest changes in its four years. This year’s ride, which now includes a barbecue and silent auction, will begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25. The ride starts at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson and will end at Courtyard Grille on Alcoa Highway. Jim Ford and Bill McClain are chairing the event.

Hankes said the motorcycle ride has grown quite a bit since its first year in 2008. The first year, there were nine riders. The goal for the motorcycle ride this year is $18,000, which is $6,000 more than last year.

“The motorcycle ride is an example of how long it takes for a new event to get started. When you go from nine riders (in 2008) to where every year it grows exponentially, it is because the committee is learning what it can do and what needs to be done,” she said. “That is why is has grown. It has grown because the committee looks for new ways to expand the event. They’re adding auctions such as auctioning off rides with the Dixie Iron Riders for people who want to ride a motorcycle for the first time and there is a barbecue dinner component for those who don’t want to ride at all. It is volunteers driving this…pardon the pun.”

United Way Gas Day

Gas Day, set for Friday, Oct. 28, always has more than its share of puns. Volunteer help for Gas Day includes more than 300 volunteers who will work convenience stores and gas stations throughout Blount County to pump fuel and clean windows for tips for United Way. Melissa Thompson and Larry Graves co-chair the event.

In addition to tips, McNutt, Calloway and Downey Oil companies donate a percentage of gas sales that day to United Way.

“That event not only wouldn’t happen without its committee, it doesn’t happen without the community,” Hankes said. “We’re talking about 300 volunteers. I don’t think anybody realizes how much planning has to go into planning an event that has 300 volunteers floating throughout the day. That event is the ultimate in organization, or it doesn’t work.”

Hankes said the volunteers have helped make the event popular in Townsend, a part of the county where no one had manned fuel pumps for United Way in the past. “What is exciting about Gas Day is we’ve expanded out to Townsend. It is a few miles away, but they have embraced Gas Day. It is a good addition because it is right at that time when lots of tourists are coming in to see the foliage or to see the football game and the volunteers love to get tourists to give to United Way,” Hankes said.

Melissa Thompson said the committee’s goal for Gas Day is $16,000 this year, which exceeds the 2010 total of about $14,000.

“I think one of the great things is it allows different companies to participate in the campaign by getting volunteers to pump gas from their organization,” she said. “It really is a team event.”

What Matters on Your Platter

Randy Burleson of Aubrey’s wanted to get restaurants involved in raising funds for United Way several years ago, and What Matters On Your Platter has gone through several major changes since the concept was first discussed.

Now, restaurants throughout Blount County, whether corporate or locally owned, are encouraged to set aside a day during lunch or the whole day where a part of their proceeds are donated to United Way.

United Way helps publicize the What Matters on Your Platter day through email blasts and on the website. Restaurants usually donate about 10 percent, said Hankes.

Two new events

While not every idea will fit into the United Way time frame and schedule as a special event, two new events came on board this year that may be one-year occurrences, or may continue: Go Big or Go Home Tailgate and the United Way Maple Lane Farm Corn Maze Days.

The tailgate event centers around the popular Alcoa vs. Maryville high school football game, which will be at Alcoa this year on Saturday, Aug. 27. Football fans will have the opportunity to show their school spirit while raising money for United Way. The parking lot at Springbrook Pool has been set aside for tailgaters who can compete to win prizes from Walmart and autographed footballs from NFL great Jerry Rice.

Tailgaters can reserve their spot for a $20, $30 or $40 donation, depending on the size of the spot. For a $20 donation to United Way of Blount County, tailgaters get two parking spots to set up their tailgating. Winners will be determined based on team spirit, recycling efforts and sportsmanship.

The grand prize is $100 in gift cards to Walmart, a promotional package for the team captains from Kellogg’s and Jerry Rice autographed footballs for a Rebel supporter and a Tornado supporter.

The Go Big or Go Home Champions Tailgate will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27. At 12 p.m. judging begins, with prizes awarded at 2 p.m. At 3 p.m. gates will open for the football game.

“The Champions Tailgate is a first time event, so I don’t know what to exactly expect,” said Hankes. “This is a case of volunteers grabbing the reins and saying, ‘We’re going to do this,’” Hankes said.

Hankes said there are still space available. “I’m about a third full. We’ll fill that parking lot, no question. Some groups who are tailgating are agencies, and they may be selling their own T-shirts or giving information about their programs.”

To reserve a spot or for more information, call United Way at 865-982-2251.

The other new event is the corn maze. United Way Campaign Chair Lea Anne Law has been immortalized in the Maple Lane Farm Corn Maze in Greenback this year. Her photograph -- cheering and waving pon-poms -- was the basis for the corn maze design.

In return, corn maze owner Bob Schmidt is designating Saturdays on Sept. 24, Oct. 15 and Oct. 22 as United Way Days, with $1 from every ticket sold being donated to United Way on those days.

Company campaigns

Creativity also abounds within business campaigns, said Hankes.

“When the economy is down, this is the way to have fun,” said Hankes. “United Way is for the community, and it is not any good if the community is not having fun,” she said. “Bottom line is, they’re helping somebody.”

Some of the creative things that are being done within businesses include paying to “dress down” on certain days, bake sales, bingo night and ice cream socials. Some businesses even open their ideas to the community, as East Tennessee Medical Group did on Aug. 13 with a family movie at the Palace Theatre. About 50 folks turned out to see the animated movie “Rio,” with ticket sales going to United Way through the ETMG campaign.

Hankes said several companies are doing their own little events to raise money for United Way. “They may be little but they add up -- things like rummage sales, bake sales, hot dog lunches, pancake breakfasts and the movie night that East Tennessee Medical Group did,” Hankes said. “Those are usually open to the public. When we find out about them, we try to publicize them.”

Hankes said the annual chili lunch that the City of Alcoa does in late October is another strong event open to the public. “I think with the economy the way it is, it is a way for companies to do a morale booster. It is a party. It is also a way to do public relations for the company to say, ‘We’re giving back to the community. Come meet our staff or agency,’” she said. “It doesn’t make staff feel like ‘Oh no, I’m being asked to give again.’”

Hankes said companies have become very creative in their efforts to raise money within their own companies. While rummage sales, casual Fridays, $5 Jean Day and bake sales are popular, Cornerstone of Recovery took their internal campaign to a new level in 2010 with a tricycle race among company executives, she said.

“They had to take the seats off the tricycles because the adults could not fit on them. Each of the vice presidents - five or six individuals - raced, and the staff had water balloons they purchased to throw at the riders as they competed,” she said. “That was one of the most entertaining events I’ve seen.”

There was also “skunking” as a fundraiser. “Skunking is a practice where someone finds a stuffed skunk on their desk, and they have to pay to the skunk off their desk.

“I’ve even see that done with a toilet seat, and you have to pay to put it on someone else’s desk,” she said. “It is for staff morale. It is fun.”

Some companies even set up mock “jails” where people get “arrested” and the bond they post goes to United Way. “I’ve seen CEOs who have to put themselves in jail,” she said. “I’m always worried employees won’t take them out.”

With kick off on Friday, everything goes full tilt, said Hankes.

“All volunteers, no matter how much they raise, they put their time into it. Events only work if they have volunteers who work them,” she said. “While every dollar is precious, it is the time, effort and passion volunteers put into it that is really the story.”

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