United Way aims higher for 2014-15

Nonprofit’s fundraising chair eyes 5 percent increase after 4 straight years of gains

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As Raymond Buehler gears up for the United Way of Allegheny County’s annual fundraising effort, he’s taking a play from last year’s campaign when the agency generated nearly $34 million in contributions and topped the prior year’s total by 2.3 percent.

“We’ll ask donors to give 105 percent of [what they did last year],” said Mr. Buehler. “I think that’s a good concept and I think 5 percent is not that unreasonable to ask from corporations and individual donors.”

Mr. Buehler, chairman of accounting and business advisory firm Schneider Downs & Co. and chair of United Way’s 2014-15 appeal, credited last year’s campaign chair, Kim Tillotson Fleming, with successfully urging donors to dig deeper and increase their contributions by 5 percent.

“I’m very hopeful, even optimistic,” he said in an interview last week hours before United Way launched its annual campaign with a field goal kicking contest during a Steelers preseason game at Heinz Field.

“We’re on the other side of the recession and we’ve had the Marcellus Shale [drilling industry] move into the community. I don’t see us going backward.”

Last year was the fourth consecutive year the local United Way increased contributions generated through the campaign, which is focused largely on workplace fundraising events at about 700 local companies. Corporate donations increased by 4 percent last year.

While charitable contributions nationwide have rebounded somewhat since the economic crash in 2008, donations still lag pre-recession levels, according to an annual report from the Giving USA Foundation. That report, released in June, said giving by individuals, corporations, foundations and bequests totaled $335.2 billion in 2013, compared with $349.5 billion in 2007.

Individuals and corporations in the Pittsburgh region have remained loyal contributors to United Way, Mr. Buehler said, because it allows donors to target specific areas where they want their dollars to go to work, with options such as the Women’s Leadership Council, which assists females in crisis; the Impact Fund, which focuses on community needs including at-risk children and seniors; or specific nonprofits of the donor’s choice.

“You don’t have to be a thought leader on where to invest your money,” he said. “United Way does that work for you.”

Mr. Buehler joined United Way’s board of directors two years ago. Earlier this year, his firm received the Fred Rogers Good Neighbor Award for its participation in United Way initiatives, including a financial mentoring program and free tax return preparation for low-income individuals and families.

Philanthropy and service are basic tenets of his firm’s corporate culture, he said, because Schneider Downs generates about 10 percent of its annual revenues from nonprofit clients, including local museums, universities and human service organizations such as Brother’s Brother Foundation.

The firm, based in One PPG Place, Downtown, has 280 employees in Pittsburgh and 90 in Columbus, Ohio.

“From the day a person starts here, we talk about doing something in the community — just volunteering at something and picking a cause,” Mr. Buehler said.

The firm’s shareholders want its auditors, tax advisers and technology consultants to develop a personal “care factor,” he said. “It helps in your whole ability to understand the client. We stand behind their causes. We’re serving the nonprofit community and serving inside of it.”

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.

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