United Way Campaign Under Way

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Mid-Michigan charities like the Cristo Rey Community Center, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross depend on it: Financial support from the United Way.

"We touch the lives of about 120,000 a year in the tri-county area," said Michael Brown, president of the Capital Area United Way.

The group kicked off its annual campaign last week with 27 corporate donors already committed.

"The good news is they are coming in above last year," Brown said.

And they'll have to come in above last year in order to meet this year's $5.7 million goal.

But the group was targeting much higher goals back in 2002, before a former vice president embezzled nearly $2 million from the agency.

The lower funding for United Way has meant less money for social services. So the group is working to bring those numbers back.

A finance committee and an audit committee now supplement annual audits to give donors confidence. It seems to be working: Brown says donor corporations aren't talking about past scandals.

"They want to talk about is the kind of services that their employees, their donors are interested in," he said.

Another sign that the United Way may be turning the corner: The group exceeded its goal in the last campaign.

"We had the tsunami at the beginning of last year. We had Katrina at the end. What we stressed is local needs for local people and local services and that really sold in our community," Brown said.

Something the United Way will need to stress again to meet this year's higher funding target.