Hot Topic Intro Section September 2015

Small Business Partners: The United Way

Written By: Chris Eversole

Matt Donovan takes pride in lending people a hand, and the United Way of North Central Florida is making it easy for him.

The United Way provides Donovan and others a way to channel their charitable giving through its Small Business Partners Program, an initiative that could become a nationwide model. “The program helps me know that my support is doing good in the community,” said Donovan, who is the CEO of Seventh Compass, a Gainesville based software development firm.

Donovan also chairs the United Way’s Small Business Leadership Council, an advisory group that also helps recruit new partners, as well as continuing to develop the program.

“I get to connect with people who also believe in giving assistance to the community,” he said.

“All small businesses have similar problems,” Donovan added. “I can either provide another business owner a sounding board, or I can use someone as a sounding board.”

Donovan was the first business owner to sign on when Chris Wells, United Way’s director of development for small business giving, began recruiting small businesses for this group a year ago.

Since then, the number of business partners has grown to 95, and Wells has been telling other United Ways about it — including making presentations at the United Way of Florida conference.

Traditionally, United Ways have concentrated their fundraising almost exclusively through workplace campaigns, focusing on businesses and organizations with 50 or more employees, Wells noted.

“Here in North Central Florida, we recognized that small businesses were looking for a way to focus their giving so it could make the biggest impact,” she said.

Wells plans to make presentations statewide and nationally over the next year. “This program is absolutely portable, and if other United Ways do what we’ve done, they’ll get the results we’ve gotten,” she said.

Another early member of the Small Business Partners was Byron Young, the founder of furniture manufacturer CordaRoy’s. Young was impressed when he learned about the leverage of gifts to the United Way.

The 32 United Way Impact Partners generate three dollars — from matching funds they receive – for every grant dollar they get from United Way. “Leveraging the money is like magic,” he said. Joining other businesses in meeting community needs is important, Young added.

“We can swim in the water alone, or we do things a better way — the United Way,” he said.

Matt Lang, co-owner of Lang Jewelers, said he enjoys the “sweat equity” he puts into the Small Business Leadership Council by recruiting other businesses.

“It’s easy to write a check, but I like doing more,” he said. “I feel that the United Way is amazing, and I want to tell as many people as I can about it.”

Lang values his relationship with other businesses involved in the United Way.

“They are people I can see myself patronizing, and I’ve had people I met through the United Way ask about doing business with me,” he said.

Wells noted that small businesses can spread their gifts into monthly segments, easing the financial impact. “It’s still a significant giving level. We just make it painless,” she said.

Participating businesses also receive recognition by being listed on the United Way’s website.

Coleen DeGroff, a real estate agent with Re/Max Professionals, appreciates the reliability of the United Way.

“I know that the money is going back into the community,” she said. “It’s going to help kids read, to make sure people have enough to eat and to assisting battered women.”

“I’m not chasing my tail, giving to organizations that asked for help but not knowing where my money is going,” she added. “I know that the United Way has done a thorough review of all the agencies and that there is accountability for the money.”

DeGroff contributes $100 monthly to the United Way.

“It’s easy to have the money taken out of my account,” she said. “I know that I’m helping our community be the best it can be and giving people the best shot at achieving what they want to achieve.”

“In less than 9 months, the Small Business Partner program has grown the Community Investment Fund by 11%. That’s astounding. Our Community Investment Fund dollars are the most important dollars we raise, because that’s the grant fund that supports the work of our impact partners,” said Wells.

The strong response is impressive, said Susan Davenport, interim president and CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Having a strong chamber and strong United Way is important to having a thriving community.”

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