Don't try to tell the local United Ways that the recession is over.
They express deep gratitude for the support that enables them to help people. They recount successes — an unexpected $5,000 from a club in Lebanon, passing the cumulative $200 million mark in York.
But with one notable exception, none of the area UW annual campaigns has yet matched its pre-recession high. Three failed to meet their 2012 goals; a fourth has yet to announce its total. Most say a big part of that is because they're losing ground on company participation, in how many businesses participate, how many employees pledge and how much they pledge.
"The loss of corporate headquarters of companies, the downturn in employment — what is happening within our workplaces is they are becoming very lean and don't have a lot of time to allow the UW to come in and do a presentation," said Robert J. Woods, executive director of the York UW.
Last year, 77 percent of campaign dollars came from participating workplaces.
Just sending out pledge forms and asking people to make online contributions doesn't yield the same results as personally making the case for the campaign, Woods said. A lot of new companies are coming to York, but cultivating them will take a while: Many are still essentially startups.
Joe Morales, vice president and COO of Lancaster UW, said he believes the decline has been a national phenomenon. The decline Lancaster has seen is leading the organization to rethink its attempts to connect with the community.
In Lebanon County, companies are eager to participate and host explanatory meetings, according to UW resource development director Julie Osborne. But some have only half as many employees as they did in 2008.
One company that previously boasted one of Lebanon's largest employee campaigns "had laid off a bunch of people in the past year, and they had just told people 'We're not giving increases this year,'" Osborne said. "Coming into that situation, it's really hard for the company to say, 'Now we're doing a UW campaign, please give generously.'"
At the Carlisle & Cumberland County UW, resource development director Megan Smith said decreases in the workforce campaigns have been pretty regular. This year, there were about twice as many decreases as increases.
The exception is UW of the Capital Region, which has now met its campaign goal for 16 consecutive years and increased its total for approximately the same length of time — bumping it up nearly 21 percent in the last five years. Its new CEO, Tim Fatzinger, said there were significant declines in its donor base from about 2003 to 2006, but those have leveled off and even started to come back in the last few years.
"We've been very aggressive about trying to keep our donor base," Fatzinger said, detailing a year-round engagement strategy and materials aimed at letting donors know how their money is helping others.
Capital Region also has an enviable stable of organizations that contributed at least $100,000 or more: Headed by Highmark Blue Shield at $1,215,375 and The Hershey Co. at $768,784, the 24 organizations' donations represented 59 percent of the 2012 campaign.
There are other factors, to be sure: Many of the United Ways mention Hurricane Sandy, which they suspect siphoned off some dollars that would typically have gone to them. The election and the "fiscal cliff" happened. Carlisle had a one-time gift of nearly $96,000 last year that wasn't replicated. In Lebanon, Osborne said property reassessment hit many donors hard, and many of its partners have stepped up their individual fundraising.
The constant in the equations is the United Way partner agencies' needs. Fatzinger said a survey of its 42 partners showed that 90 percent of them saw an increase in demand for services, and 55 percent of them saw a decrease in monetary supplies.
"I think all of our 28 partner agencies are struggling," said Smith. "We have a couple of homeless shelters, and they've all seen a tremendous increase in need, doubling or tripling over the last couple of years."
"They're getting hit, not only in the private fundraising that they do, but in the federal and state cuts," said Woods, who has seen some consolidation in its partners in recent years. "It's a double whammy on them."