Winnipeg's biggest charity is looking for a few good donors.
Nineteen hundred of them, to be precise.
The United Way kicked off its annual fundraising drive Friday morning at the Stevenson campus of Red River College with a pair of aggressive goals.
First, it wants to crack the $20-million mark for the first time, and second, it wants to add 1,900 new donors. (Last year, it had 36,000.)
The challenge for local and national charities' fundraising drives are increasingly done on the backs of a declining number of philanthropists. The fact organizations such as the United Way continually set new records is testament to increasing generosity year after year, said Steve Chipman, the year's campaign chairman, who is president and CEO of the Birchwood Automotive Group.
"We have to get the message out. Winnipeggers are generous people and they want to make sure the money is used properly," he said.
Chipman wanted to dispel the myth the United Way is an "administrative sinkhole." He said the province pays all administrative costs, rent, supplies and staff salaries.
"The money raised goes right to the agencies," he said.
Chipman said he is confident this year's goal would not only be met but surpassed because Manitobans give more of their salary to charity, on a percentage basis, than people in any other province.
Birchwood practises what Chipman preaches. Last year, the company's employees donated $256,000, including 80 who contributed a minimum of $1,200.
"We averaged $300 per employee donated to the United Way," he said.
Chipman isn't the only member of his family to take on this key role. His late father, Robert M. Chipman, was campaign chairman in 1975, the first year the $4-million mark was passed.
The campaign officially took flight Friday morning when 1,500 Winnipeggers on 56 teams participated in the 10th annual plane pull. (The team from the Winnipeg Free Press not only didn't sustain any crippling injuries but it pulled the plane across the line in less than eight seconds to win the event.)
The poster child of this year's campaign is Cassandra Gagne, a 29-year-old woman who hit rock-bottom a decade ago but turned her life around through United Way-sponsored agencies. After finding she was pregnant at age 18, she curbed her party lifestyle, repaired relationships with family and friends, finished high school and graduated with a nursing degree, all while bringing up her son, Miguel, 9.
"Through the United Way, I was able to change my life and learn how to be a parent," she said.
She attributes much of her turnaround to the people at Villa Rosa, who helped her through school and taught her how to cope with the real world.
Today, she is a registered nurse at Women's Hospital, working with women in labour.
The United Way is the only private organization to provide multi-year core funding to more than 100 independent programs and agencies across Winnipeg. About 250,000 people, roughly one in three Winnipeggers, will avail themselves of United Way programs and services this year.