United Way reaching potential donors in a new way

United Way of Thurston County has launched a campaign this month to raise the nonprofit’s profile and mission in the community with help from its partners.

The partners include banks, credit unions and other nonprofits to help spread the word about United Way, United Way of Thurston County Executive Director Paul Knox said.

“We want them to turn and tell their customers,” he said about the marketing effort.

It’s something new for United Way of Thurston County because workplace giving — which represents more than 200 public, private and nonprofit organizations and their employees generating about two-thirds of its $1.5 million budget — has been flat the past 10 years because of the recession and slow growth economy.

The other one-third of its budget comes from individual donors, special grants and corporate events and sponsorships, such as the “Straight from the Heart” dinner at Lucky Eagle Casino, which now raises about $140,000.

Of that $1.5 million, $800,000 goes toward funding 35 programs at 24 nonprofits in the county. Just under one-quarter of the budget is used for administrative expenses, Knox said, including a 10-person staff.

“We are the largest provider of private dollars in the community,” he said.

United Way also has become a new destination for volunteers after the Volunteer Center of Lewis, Mason and Thurston counties closed. It now connects volunteers to those who need them through the United Way website, Knox said.

After a long career in state government and co-founding the Washington Asset Building Coalition, Knox was recruited to United Way by former executive director Pam Toal. He joined the board in 2008 and became executive director in 2010. The board has 21 members.

Ron Bruchet, co-owner and president of Olympia-based GHB Insurance, is one of them. He joined this summer, and his business participates in workplace giving. He also was the United Way’s campaign chairman for 2013.

“I believe in giving back to the community,” he said. “It’s a great way for our employees to get involved and I don’t have to do too much arm-twisting; they all want to get involved.

The business has decided to have a little fun with its fundraising.

If the business meets its highest workplace giving goal, Bruchet is forced to do something as dreamed up by a committee of employees.

He had to wash every employee vehicle over the summer — he employs about 20 — and the summer before he had to dance on the sidewalk holding a sign for four hours on Lilly Road, between Pacific Avenue and Martin Way.

“Morning commuters were pretty grumpy,” he said, “but by late morning people were starting to have a little more fun.”

Bruchet has yet to learn his fate this year, he said.