Local United Way, business partners team up for fundraising kickoff

A fundraising campaign for local nonprofits kicked off Thursday with an event bearing the trappings of a big game.

United Way of Dubuque Area Tri-States opened its 2022-23 campaign with master of ceremonies Katie Wiedemann — clad in a referee’s uniform — blowing a whistle, business and nonprofit partners answering questions in a mock press conference, and Danielle Leibfried, president and CEO of the local United Way, encouraging attendees to participate in “the wave.”

Thursday’s kickoff event drew United Way officials and staff, local officials, members of the area’s business community and representatives of Dubuque-area nonprofit organizations to Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque. More than 200 people attended the event.

“We are going to step up our game this year,” said April Finnin-Rink, president of Finnin Kia and co-chair of this year’s fundraising campaign with Tyson Leyendecker, president and CEO of Dubuque Bank & Trust. “We need to draft new players. We need to engage the local business community with our workplace campaign. We just have a lot of work to do.”

The campaign seeks to raise $1.2 million to help fund a grant process to address community needs.

“We’re bringing people together to reduce and remove poverty in the areas of health, education and financial stability,” Leibfried said. “This year, we have funded 33 nonprofit programs, including bringing six brand-new programs into our mix.”

Leibfried said she expects the campaign to eclipse its fundraising target, which mirrors last year’s amount.

“Our goal is to blow through $1.2 million,” she said. “We kept it static for this year, knowing we’ve had a couple of real tough years with COVID and its impacts to our community, but we know we have met our goal the last few years. We also know we need to continue to grow to meet our community’s needs and still be a driving force behind community change.”

Finnin-Rink said current economic conditions have created challenges for increasing numbers of local families.

“This year, with record inflation, everyone understands what struggles families are facing, some of the challenges out there,” she said. “Basic needs are getting harder and harder to meet for some of our families.”

Leibfried said food scarcity poses a challenge for many families.

“Everybody sees the prices at the grocery store,” she said. “They are impacting every single community member, especially those who are in poverty or on the brink of poverty. We call those families ‘ALICE’ families — asset-limited, income-constrained employed. Those are families who are just over the poverty line but who are unable or barely able to put together a basic-needs budget.”

John Deere Dubuque Works General Manager Mark Dickson described the fundraising effort in ways that echoed the sports theme of Thursday’s kickoff event.

“You can’t have a winning community unless you have a winning team,” Dickson said. “That’s why we’re all here. And you can’t have a winning team unless you are engaged in the community. We bring our (nonprofit) partners in and have them tell (our employees) about what they do in the community.“

Finnin-Rink said campaign officials work to maintain the engagement between donors and the community.

“It’s about keeping people connected with their dollars, telling them this is what your dollars did in our local community,” she said.

Raising funds is one aspect of the campaign. Delivering assistance to families in need is another. United Way recently implemented a fully competitive grant process.

“It’s a two-year grant process, which allows our nonprofits an opportunity to really build strong programming,” Leibfried said. “We grant every other year, and we give them a two-year commitment. Our next open grant process will be 2024.”