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When corporate sponsorship goes beyond the check

At United Way, we are so grateful to have 11 corporate campaign sponsors this year. What is a corporate campaign sponsor, you might ask? Well officially, this is a local business partner who invests part of their sponsorship or media and advertising budget with us.

Their dollars help to defray the inherent cost of launching and promoting a fundraising campaign and special events. These dollars help to offset things like brochures, signage, promotional pieces, fundraising events, etc. It’s easy to sometimes forget that fundraising has expenses and the execution of a successful campaign requires resources. Those resources aren’t free. The old adage “it takes money to make money” …well, that is most certainly an accurate description of fundraising. Corporate campaign sponsorship is a critical piece to a successful United Way effort. It helps to ensure that donations can be directed to programming; it assists with managing reasonable overhead expense.

Since these are marketing dollars spent from their corporate budgets, they receive yearlong recognition with our organization. This happens through signage at events, acknowledgement and photo portals on our website, social media coverage, special invites to events and more. Sometimes we are asked what the difference is between a corporate gift and a corporate campaign sponsorship. Corporate gifts, like all gifts, are directed to our annual fund and utilized for programming; those agencies we provide funding to as well as local United Way initiatives and programs. Corporate sponsorships are given truly from a marketing budget. Those funds originate from a different place and support different kinds of expenses. Many of our corporate sponsors provide this sponsorship support in addition to an annual gift. BOTH types of giving play a critical role in or continues success and growth.

Sometimes a business signs on as a corporate campaign sponsor and ends up tangled (in the most wonderful of ways) in our web of impact and outreach. That very scenario unfolded this past month with this year’s platinum corporate campaign sponsor, OVWR. Ohio Valley Water Resources is a water hauling service based in Mineral Wells. This is their first year of sponsorship and they are truly just getting to know our United Way. In December, our Student United Way organization was launching its annual canned food drive. They were looking for local businesses that would allow them to place collection boxes onsite. One of the students said OVWR was willing to help. I was at first skeptical. I mean, these drivers report pre-dawn for a long work day on the road. Would they really engage and take up the cause of a food drive? Would they actually drag those bags of canned goods into the warehouse and truck bays? Of course I agreed, but I admit I had some doubts.

Clearly I had momentarily forgotten forgotten how powerful corporate culture and leadership can be! Tim and Lori Ashley, OVWR owners, are a continual exhibit of community support and philanthropy. Their employees have seen them time and time again support area causes and organizations. They witness this display of giving back, and they clearly have bought in to the momentum. OVWR employees took up the cause with fervor, a competitive spirit and true dedication. They filled the collection boxes several times over! We were thrilled and grateful.

It didn’t end there. The students needed to house the collections somewhere while they planed and plotted for their ExtravaCANza displays (sculptures made out of cans–a concept teenagers seem to LOVE–and a story for another day!) Our United Way office didn’t have the capacity. They needed a location that could hold the collection for a couple of weeks. This was a tall order. Enter Tim and Lori Ashley…again! They cleared an area in one of their warehouses and turned it over to the students. They gave the group access to sort, strategize and store their lot.

Then last week it was time to move the haul to WVUP for the big build day. There were literally thousands of items. Heavy items. Cumbersome items. Irregular items that didn’t stack in a neat and orderly fashion. The students had a plan for transport. They had a well thought out plan that seemed fool proof…right up until the time it wasn’t. The stomach flu struck. Then the temperatures dropped. Then the roads froze. Teenage drivers and hazardous roads are not a good mix. The text messages were swirling. The stress levels were rising. The items needed moved to the college early the next morning and despite the best planning, it seemed impossible to make this happen. Plans were falling apart and the project was on the brink of failure.

Once again, enter the Ashleys. Like a knight in shining armor (or a four-wheel drive on a snowy road) Tim Ashley went to the warehouse at 11:30 that night and loaded the items in his truck. (Remember the part about irregularly shaped and not super stackable items?) The next morning, he delivered the items to the college for the kids and helped to unload them.

This wasn’t his project. This wasn’t an OVWR project. Tim and Lori were never involved in the planning and certainly didn’t expect to be involved in the execution. But they ARE involved in this community and they did see the value in this initiative. They were not obligated to help. They had already done so much through their generous sponsorship. They are just those people. They saw a series of needs, they knew they could make a difference and they jumped in without reservation. This is just one example of how our corporate campaign sponsors so very often go beyond the check.

The check- it’s critical. It’s a game changer for us. The extra, genuine support…that’s what reenergizes us and keeps us striving every single day to make a difference. We have a community full of people who are willing to go the extra mile. That extra mile…it makes all of the difference. Thank you OVWR for going 10 extra miles for us. Thank you for inspiring others to step up and make a difference as well. You really are superheroes…you deserve the cape!

Stacy DeCicco is executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, located at 935 Market St., Parkersburg.

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