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Local businesses contribute to their communities through United Way corporate campaigns

Staff at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar play “Minute to Win It” games as part of their fundraising efforts for United Way of West Central Minnesota. Last year the hospital staff raised a total of $21,800. Submitted photo1 / 5
The UPS center in Willmar holds a United Way campaign each year. Last year, the center raised nearly $5,000 for United Way. UPS employees have the option to designate how their donation will be used in their community. Tribune photo by Ashley White2 / 5
Employees at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar gather to watch the festivities during a fundraising event for United Way of West Central Minnesota. Submitted photo3 / 5
Halloween costume contests and more put an element of fun into the United Way fundraising efforts at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar. Submitted photo4 / 5
Halloween costume contests and more put an element of fun into the United Way fundraising efforts at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar. Submitted photo5 / 5

For the 2013-14 year, the United Way of West Central Minnesota has set an ambitious fundraising goal: $1 million.                                                                            

Much of that effort will come from businesses throughout west central Minnesota that coordinate United Way corporate campaigns, said Renee Nolting, executive director of the United Way. Currently, around 80 businesses run these campaigns each year.

In the fall, these businesses show presentations, plan weeklong activities and encourage employees to donate $1 or $2 a month from their paychecks to the United Way.

“It’s like giving up a cup of coffee, but it makes such a difference,” Nolting said. “For most people, it’s easier to give that way than to write a check for $100, and you’re still impacting so many people right in your community.”

At Rice Memorial Hospital, around 75 percent of the employees contribute to the annual United Way campaign, either through payroll deduction or through activities that take place in the fall, according to rehab department director and United Way campaign chair Lynn Stier.

“We have a lot of ways besides payroll for employees to give to the campaign,” Stier said. “Even during the economic hard times, we’ve always been impressed with how much our employees give.”

Last year, Rice Hospital raised $21,800 for United Way, with about $18,500 coming from payroll deductions. This year, the hospital has set an early goal of $19,000 for its United Way campaign. Some of that will come from the campaign’s two largest activities: a crockpot contest in early October and a “Minute to Win It” competition on Halloween.

As part of the Minute to Win It competition, each department nominates one employee to compete. Those employees then place jars in the cafeteria and encourage people to “vote” for them by donating money. The eight employees with the most money by Halloween then compete in the contest, where each challenge takes 60 seconds.

“It’s so much fun, and everyone really enjoys it,” Stier said. “Since it’s on Halloween, some people dress up and we get a lot of staff, and even patients, to come watch. There is so much fun and laughter.”

Even if employees choose not to give through their paychecks, participating in one of these activities still gives them a sense of supporting their community, Stier said.

“It’s our employees’ way of giving, even if it’s in small ways,” she said. “Rice is a big part of this community, and this is a way for our employees to give to the people in need in this community.”

The UPS center in Willmar also sees its employees eager to give back through its United Way campaign. Last year, the Willmar UPS raised nearly $5,000 through its corporate campaign, which consists solely of payroll deductions and one-time donations. The Willmar UPS center is also part of a five-state district that has a $2.2 million United Way campaign goal this year.

Each year, UPS managers in Willmar sit down with their 46 employees and encourage them to give to the United Way. About 85 percent of employees end up making a donation in some amount, said Mike Blaskowski, center manager, who heads the campaign with on-road supervisor Valorie Bloomquist.

UPS employees also have the opportunity to designate where their donation will go, Blaskowski said. For example, they can choose to donate to the United Way’s Imagination Library or to programs that will help families learn to manage their expenses.

In addition, all of the donations go to the community where the employee lives, based on their zip code.

“They really have the chance to impact people where they live and have a say in where that money is going,” Blaskowski said. “I really think that education and those one-on-one conversations are the reason that our campaign has been so successful in the past. This isn’t a UPS thing, this is an employee thing. That’s the key to our success.”

While the United Way will honor the donation requests of employees at the UPS and other businesses, it also chooses specific areas each year where it sees the biggest need for community support.

This year, the United Way of West Central Minnesota has identified two priority areas in the community for funding: education and health. The United Way Board looked closely at regional data and surveyed many donors before choosing these two areas during its strategic planning last year.

“We’re fine-tuning our focus to see what we can do in those areas,” Nolting said. “We know that education is one of the strongest areas where we can make a difference and make our community stronger.”

These two areas are broad enough to encompass other needs in the community as well, Nolting said. For example, a child who does not receive three meals a day may not do as well in school, impacting his or her education. The United Way would then consider funding a program focused on providing meals to children, under the umbrella of education.

“Some of these other concerns in the community will roll into the two categories that we’ve identified,” Nolting said. “We want to build stronger children and families. That’s one of our main goals for this next year.”

Last year, the United Way raised $340,000 through corporate campaigns, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total $866,000 raised. Between corporate campaigns and other donations, the United Way granted funding for 48 programs to agencies across west central Minnesota.

That funding is something every business that participates in a United Way campaign can take pride in, Nolting said.

“When you become a part of your community, you begin to see that impact you can have,” she said. “You as an organization are investing money in people’s lives in your region. The need is so great out there, and our region has been blessed with wonderful givers. We couldn’t do the work that we do without all of their help.”

For more information on the United Way of West Central Minnesota and its corporate campaigns, visit

Ideas for United Way campaign activities

* Dollar jean Fridays

* Homemade or silent auctions

* Crockpot contest

* Favorite sports teams/jersey day

* Photo contests (guess baby pictures, hands, children’s Halloween costumes, etc.)

* After-hours golf tournament

* Breakfast cart, with all items donated

* “Survivor”-style competitions

* Arm wrestling competitions

* Bake sale or “regifting” sale

* Grill outs or picnics

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

(320) 214-4308