The Keene Community Chest began in 1952 as a mechanism for raising money locally, then doling it out to area services. Its annual fundraising campaign, held in the fall, was called the Red Feather Drive. This evening, the organization now known as the Monadnock United Way kicks off its 67th such drive, starting at 5:30 at the Keene Public Library’s new Cohen Hall.
That first year, the Community Chest aimed to raise $39,000. That was a lot of money in those days, and it went to dozens of community services. This year’s campaign hopes to raise $1.554 million, which will also help dozens of area agencies that help others.
In the not-too-distant past, the United Way raised upward of $2 million in its annual fall campaign, which actually stretches fairly into winter. But a combination of dynamics has eaten into that total, reducing the goal to a more realistic amount.
For one, online and mobile communications have made it far easier for those wishing to help others to pick and choose their own specific recipients, funneling some of the money that used to go through the United Way. Also, many longtime donors who gave through workplace payroll deductions have retired, at the peak of their giving. There are other reasons, but those are the two biggest, we were told several years ago by that year’s campaign chairman. No doubt, the relative economy and personal circumstance play a part as well.
Through the years, the annual campaign has kicked off with a gala celebration, often including a theme that’s served as occasion to play dress-up, such as pirates or movie stars or the wild West. This year’s event will be a bit tamer; no costume required.
That’s befitting the theme this year, which echoes the organization’s new mantra of sorts: “We’re more than fundraisers; we’re hand-raisers and game-changers.” Note, too, that the name of this year’s event is meant to be singular. The Community Impact Celebration and Campaign Kickoff combines the annual fundraising event with a reminder of the agency’s new objective: community impact.
It’s not that the United Way hasn’t previously aimed to improve the community. That’s been its goal from day one. But several years ago, the organization moved to a new model for achieving that broad goal, one that incorporates several smaller, focused goals. They are child welfare; education; and financial stability and basic needs.
In 2018, the agency handed out its first slate of grants to organizations and efforts related to child welfare — those working to reduce child abuse and neglect. At month’s end, the second year’s funding will be announced, going to efforts to improve financial stability and help people meet their basic needs. Next year, the target will be educational efforts.
The funding is distributed in two-year cycles, meaning by next year, child welfare programs will again be eligible for a new round. The hope is to keep those three goals revolving until the needs are met, if that can be achieved.
The annual campaign isn’t the only method of fundraising for the United Way. It raised $127,000 last year in other grants and donations. That’s an ever-broadening effort, too.
A year from now, ideally, the “Campaign Kickoff” part of the name will be dropped from the event. Liz LaRose, president and CEO of the Monadnock United Way, says the hope is that, by then, the conversation will have been broadened. In other words, she hopes by then people in the area will be focused on the goals, not the fundraising, which for decades has been the most-talked-about aspect of the agency.
That doesn’t mean the big thermometer won’t stand guard outside People’s United Bank, showing how the effort is going. But it might mean more understanding of what that money can be used for. In the grand scheme of things, that’s the real annual goal, one worthy of the community’s support.