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August 30, 2001
United Way Gets Competitors For Office Giving
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In what may be a coup for groups seeking to break United Way's hold on workplace giving, Emory University in Atlanta has invited four other charities to solicit payroll contributions from its employees, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Atlanta's United Way officials are concerned that this could start a trend, with the result being a decrease in donations to its community programs, the Journal-Constitution reports.

Emory, which includes Emory University Hospital, Crawford Long Hospital and Emory Clinics, employs 19,000, making it the Atlanta area's fourth-largest private employer.

Mark O'Connell, president of Atlanta's United Way, told the newspaper that his charity has worked hard to establish a community vision for Atlanta and doesn't want to see those donations diluted.

"It's not about choice. It's about effectiveness, he said. It's about whether a community like metro Atlanta will have a way to work together."

But the decision at Emory to expand beyond United Way, through the new EmoryGives program, percolated up from employees, who wanted more choices, said Michelle Smith, Emory's executive director of corporate relations.

Smith said it was unclear how the new program would affect United Way contributions. "This is new territory for us," she said. "My hope is that we will draw more donors and pick up folks who haven't donated in the past."

Sherry Sutton of Georgia Shares, one of the four groups benefiting from the change, said she doesn't consider her organization a competitor to the United Way. "We see ourselves as complementing what United Way does," she said.

Alice Rolls, executive director of Earth Share of Georgia, another of the groups, predicted that donations to United Way might actually rise in a more open atmosphere for giving at Emory.

Emory had a relatively low 10 percent participation rate in last year's United Way campaign, raising about $381,000, a far cry from the $5.8 million raised by another major Atlanta-area employer, BellSouth Corp.

Workplace contributions account for about $4 billion of the $200 billion Americans give to nonprofit organizations each year. That portion has long been dominated by United Way. But efforts to open up workplace giving are under way nationwide.

Yet some companies, such as Delta Air Lines, have even gone the opposite way, moving from several groups to a United Way-only campaign.

WorldSpan, a Cobb County-based computer travel reservations service, opened its workplaces nationally to Earth Share and Habitat for Humanity. Doug Abramson, WorldSpan's senior vice president of human resources, said the result was a win-win situation.

"Our experience was very positive, for United Way and for the other groups," he said. "The percentage of people giving increased by at least 20 percent."

Not only did WorldSpan surpass its United Way goal, it became a top donor to Earth Share, providing $125,000 of the environmental federation's $300,000 total contributions last year.

United Way was founded in Atlanta in 1905 as an umbrella for nonprofit charitable groups soliciting funds from employers.

To view the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, click here.
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