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Caron Lawhorn: Fundraising in a pandemic? We can do it the Tulsa way, the United Way

Caron Lawhorn: Fundraising in a pandemic? We can do it the Tulsa way, the United Way

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“Are you worried about fundraising during a pandemic?”

As the 2020 campaign chair for Tulsa Area United Way, I get that question often. Hearing the word “worry” makes me picture someone in a nonproductive state of anxiety. While I’m not anxious, I certainly understand the reality of the situation facing our community, and I am concerned.

The challenge during tough economic times is when people need help the most, charitable giving declines due to wide-spread uncertainty, personal loss and fear of the unknown. Yet now more than ever, we need our nonprofits to remain strong — to continue to provide services that will help the community recover together — whether they are providing food, living expenses, job assistance or health care.

Watch our 2020 campaign video and that urgency quickly comes into focus. Blue Dome Market owner Robert Merrifield candidly discusses the impact a United Way partner program had on his restaurant. By working with Hunger Free Oklahoma, a community collaboration partner, Merrifield and his staff made 3,600 meals in his kitchen each week for 17 weeks to feed thousands of families and individuals in need. Keeping his kitchen open and his business intact was a win-win. He was able to provide jobs to people who were depending on him and address food insecurity exacerbated by COVID-19.

Our nonprofits have stepped up and refused to let the pandemic stop them from serving our community. Clients at A New Leaf, a Broken Arrow-based nonprofit helping individuals with disabilities live independently, have been cleaning the fitness facility at Broken Arrow Seniors so members can still meet daily to exercise and socialize. The work performed by A New Leaf keeps individuals actively engaged in work, while giving seniors the opportunity to maintain their physical and emotional health, which we know is so important during this challenging time.

For the past several months, I recruited colleagues throughout the community to serve on the campaign team. Much of that recruiting was done while these business and community leaders grappled with COVID-19. I was amazed at the number of people I asked to be a part of this year’s campaign who said “Yes!” I found it gratifying and inspiring that these already busy people are willing to take on this extra work on behalf of our community, while they may also be facing personal challenges of their own. It’s a selfless act of servant leadership that motivates me to work even harder.

While our business community is facing tough times of their own in this tough economic environment, so far in our conversations, not one company who ran a workplace campaign last year has said, “Not this year.” No one has turned down the opportunity to engage their employees in a United Way campaign to do something amazing for our community. Even though many workplace campaigns will be virtual, the needs are 100% physical and real. We are grateful for the businesses, the individual givers and the foundations that keep showing up for their friends, family members and neighbors in need.

COVID-19 has not diminished our resolve. That's what I tell people who ask if I’m concerned about raising money during these tough times. There’s too much at stake for us to back down. We’re raising funds for the 2021 operations of 59 partner agencies and grants to organizations solving complex social challenges, and we know their services are needed more than ever.

I am confident our community will rally around Tulsa Area United Way and our 2020 campaign theme, “United in Hope.” We are United in Hope for a better future than what we’re experiencing today, and we know we each have a role to play in getting to that better future. I hope you’ll join us. Make a pledge through your workplace campaign, mail a check, donate online and feel good about the positive impact you’ll be making in someone’s life. Every dollar matters. Thank you for Living United.

Caron Lawhorn, ONE Gas senior vice president and chief financial officer, is Tulsa Area United Way 2020 campaign chair.

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