For more than a quarter-century, the United Way of Dodge County has demonstrated that “Sharing is Caring,” urging citizens to “Live United,” demonstrating “The Power of One, The Strength of Many,” proclaiming “United We Fight, United We Win.”
The slogans may change, but the purpose is the same — providing help and services for those who desperately need the assistance.
Before United Way entered the local picture, small community-based charities were established. “United Funds” were established in Mayville, Horicon and Beaver Dam. Each supported local charities and organizations on whatever scale possible.
United Way, established in Denver in 1887, offered a broader focus and a proven formula of effectiveness. In 1994, area United Funds were merged under the United Way umbrella. The larger organization’s goal was and is to support needs around the county, focused on having the biggest impact on the greatest number of people.
David Genereaux recalls when the appeal for an overall United Way coordinator went out. His wife, Donna, applied for the position and became the local chapter’s first executive director.
“She was inundated with boxes of paper and stacks of outdated equipment,” Genereaux said. “We were given $80 to purchase a desk and we bought one for $90 because that was the one she really wanted.”
Donna Genereaux died in February 2016. The desk is still in use at the new coordinator’s home, three doors away on Water Street. Current Executive Director Susan Jentz, like her predecessor, operates the office from her home, with meetings held at Beaver Dam Community Library.
Forming the new organization was not easy.
“Local coordinators were upset at being bypassed, so there were no instructions and no help,” Genereaux said. “It took a year or more before things settled down and Donna no longer came back from the board meetings saying that she wanted to quit. The main reason she didn’t quit was that she believed in what she was doing. Once she had a formula down, things began to click. She developed fundamental relationships with donors and agencies, and off she went.”
No one can recall the early annual budget, but Genereaux recalls that it was quite a while before it topped $100,000.
Donna Genereaux led the United Way effort as executive director for more than 20 years, working with scores of board members, implementing an annual “Day of Caring,” and orchestrating community- and business-led efforts to raise funds for member agencies. Twenty agencies currently benefit from the nearly $300,000 annual fundraising effort. United Way supports needs ranging from homelessness to hunger, from mental illness to domestic violence, from childhood obesity and fitness to drug addiction, from resources for the elderly to poverty, from post-prison rehabilitation to healthcare challenges.
Screening for member agencies is rigorous.
“United Way has guidelines that all its member organizations have to meet,” Jentz said. “They have to perform some health or human services role. They have to be 501©(3). They must undergo some kind of an audit, and they have to have an element of sustainability.
“We also look for outcomes and measurements. They have to give us numbers. Our board looks at return on investment. Who do you serve and what are you doing? Our donors are our investors, and funding is based on what our agencies give back to our communities.”
The United Way office often gets individual requests for funding and has a stock, and helpful, answer.
“The answer is ‘Yes, we can help you, but we help you through our agencies,’” Jentz said. “We do not give out money. We give money to our agencies and they administer those funds. That’s what they do. That’s their job.”
Agencies often hold their own fundraisers, but United Way remains a substantial contributor. According to Assistant Executive Director Mary Kuntz, that allows the agencies to focus more on their mission.
“We’re here to help them,” Kuntz said.
Looking into the future involves changing priorities when needed. The recent opioid crisis has prompted increased funding for agencies that deal with those concerns.
“We’re always looking for gaps, and how agencies are equipped to meet those needs,” Jentz said. “If we see a big need, or one that is not being met, we talk to our agencies and help them address those needs in whatever way they can.”
Funding is led by contributions from John Deere Corporation, ITW Shakeproof Group, Alliant Energy, UPS, The Cramer Family Foundation and Walmart. Just as important, however, are the small gifts from individuals and small businesses.
Many large and small donors hold special events to raise money, including bake sales, special lunches, in-house auctions and other events.
“Every contribution, no matter how large or small, helps us to do great things,” Kuntz said. “We not only help financially, but by promoting volunteers as well. A recent initiative, Volunteer Dodge, provides a network of volunteers and needs through volunteerdodge.net. Recent statistics show that there are 546 people (volunteers) with profiles on the site. There are currently 83 active needs (opportunities to volunteer). A total of 65 nonprofit groups use the site.
“With volunteerism and with our other efforts, we’re trying to partner more and more. We’re involved in so much more than funding.
“The biggest thing that we can do as an organization is to help people realize that all these things matter. Whether it’s though large or small donations, or connecting to the community by volunteering a few hours a week or a month, all these things have a huge impact on the community.”
“Now the challenge is to build on Donna’s legacy, to grow it and expand it and to move forward in a way that would make her proud,” Jentz said.
“And that’s exactly what they’re doing,” Genereaux said.