Donors saved the day with pledges for the year reaching $18.2 million -- a new record.
"I personally had my doubts -- 'Are we going to make it?,' " said 2009 campaign chairman Jeff Zabudsky at a press conference Thursday morning.
Just before Christmas, it looked like they were going to be about $200,000 short, said the Red River College president and chief executive officer.
The bar was set high at $18.2 million -- $300,000 more than the previous year's target.
A recession and nervousness about the economy meant the United Way needed to raise its goal, not lower it, said Zabudsky.
The need for services funded by the umbrella organization would be on the rise with layoffs and all the fallout connected to an economic downturn, he said.
In December, they put out a call for more donations. Winnipeggers responded by digging deep, said Zabudsky.
"There was an outpouring of generosity."
The clock was ticking for Zabudsky, with his job as head of Red River College winding down in January and a move to southern Ontario in the works.
Zabudsky, who wanted to be nearer to family and his aging parents, accepted a job that starts Feb. 1 at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.
He had no plans to move when he first took on the position of United Way chairman in fall 2008, and kept it quiet till near the end of his term. The big life changes came at the same time as the fundraising challenges.
"It added to the stress of the situation," he laughed.
"I'll remember this forever. It was remarkable and stressful."
Setting the United Way campaign target figure is based on real, calculated needs, not wishful thinking, said Zabudsky.
"It's not an arbitrary number. It's based on contracts that are signed with agencies." The United Way of Winnipeg funds more than 100 agencies and programs in the city.
Kids from Wi Wabigooni School, affiliated with Rossbrook House, which is one of those agencies, unveiled the $18.2-million ahievement Thursday at Portage Place.
Wi Wabigooni, which means young flower that is beginning to open, is for aboriginal students in Grades 3 to 6 who thrive in a small environment. It's run as a classroom in Victoria Albert School in the inner city.
"If we don't make it, those needs aren't met," said Zabudsky.