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June 26th, 2007 - Heidi Rambo Centrella

United Way of Central Oklaoma kicks off campaign



Pacesetter program underway, preparing for united way of central oklahoma\'s annual campaign

er, we've got 100 companies to date who have indicated they are Pacesetters," Lawrence said. "And that was our goal. We wanted to tie it in to the [state's] 100th anniversary."

An example of company participation is OGE Energy Corporation, which has contributed to the campaign since its inception. OGE Energy Corp. also is a Pacesetter company.

Larry Hawkins, the company's supervisor of community development and community relations, is in his second year of coordinating the campaign within the company.

Employees are incentivized by being shown what they get in return for their contribution. This is accomplished by bringing in different agencies and individual testimonials from those who have benefited from United Way.

"We're in the process of getting our communications out to our employees now," Hawkins said.

The company provides a variety of ways to encourage employees to give.

For example, a penny wagon is pulled from office to office for employees to toss the change from their desk into the wagon, which alone generates several thousand dollars, Hawkins said. A silent auction is held via the Internet with a variety of options on which to bid - from sailing and golfing excursions to RedHawks tickets - which also has proven lucrative in bringing in several thousand dollars.

"We also have donated an employee or paid for a loaned executive to help with the campaign which we'll do again this year," Hawkins said. "They are dedicated eight to 10 hours a day to help United Way meet their goal. Others in the community do that, as well."

However, the greatest aspect of the campaign is individual giving by employees, he said.

Of the corporation's 3,100 statewide employees, 2,423 contributed to last year's campaign, which raised approximately $650,000. Combined with the corporate pledge, United Way of Central Oklahoma received a total contribution of nearly $1 million from the company in 2006.

Bob Spinks has witnessed the ebb and flow of charitable giving as he is serving his seventh year as president of United Way of Central Oklahoma.

By comparison to other United Way chapters, historically, Central Oklahoma's has been ranked in the top 10 nationally in terms of people's giving, Spinks said.

Even during difficult economic times in 2002-03 - post 9/11 - when all United Ways were challenged, Spinks said the Central Oklahoma chapter did better comparatively than most others.

"And I think that comes back to what we all hear and know to be true - that Oklahomans are more generous than people in most other places in the country," he said. "We rise and fall with the economy; we're really kind of a barometer for how well is the economy doing."

Spinks says the last three campaigns have had substantial increases over set goals. Last year, the goal of $16 million raised $16.5 million. The two years before that also saw increases.

"Clearly there are a lot of things that drive that, including that Oklahoma's economy is benefiting from the gas prices. And our oil and gas companies are very generous supporters," he said. "But we've also noted over the last three years that not only has the oil and gas sector in our campaign been up with nice increases, all the other sectors in our campaign have been up, as well. The only one that has had difficulty, and this is true anywhere, is manufacturing.

However, he said, even manufacturing was up in 2006 compared to 2005.

"So that, to me, is the most positive statement about our overall economy and overall giving in the community is that it isn't just oil and gas like everybody kind of likes to talk about," Spinks said. "So far, it seems to be all the sectors in the community are doing well."

Dollars raised in the campaign are allocated back through the 57 partner agencies in the community with which United Way funds programs.

The process of allocating that money is done through a specific and rigorous process review that involves about 200 community volunteers.

And the board must approve the volunteers' decision in terms of the

allocation process.

The general campaign is co-chaired this year by Devon Energy Corporation's President and CEO Larry Nichols and his wife, Polly.

"United Way is the biggest fundraising event for charities in Oklahoma City, and both Polly and I have been active in different ways with United Way in the past," Nichols said.

Devon's first internal fundraising was in 1997, and the company has been active in its efforts since. Devon also has a program whereby whatever the employees raise, the company will match.

"And we make it crystal clear to our employees that there is no coercion involved, it will have no impact on their jobs. If they feel the need [to give], great, and if they don't want to participate in a given year, that's perfectly fine, too," he said. "Once an employer realizes that you can educate employees about the need, those people respond."

Last year, Devon and its Oklahoma City-based employees raised $820,000.

Approximately 80 percent of its employees contribute. And that number has gradually been building, Nichols said.

By comparison, 10 years ago, Devon and its employees gave a grand total of $17,000, and only 25 percent of employees participated.

These figures do not reflect contributions made by the company's offices located outside Oklahoma. Devon's total contribution to United Way from all its offices in North America was $2.5 million in 2006.

"The success of the campaign is really built on making people aware of the needs that exist in the community," Nichols said. "Once people are aware

 
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