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United Way changes focus

Group no longer wants to stress a specific financial goal

By Joshua Lynsen

jlynsen@postbulletin.com

The United Way of Olmsted County launched its 2004 fund-raising campaign this morning, with no publicly announced financial goal and a strong focus on how every donated dollar improves the community.

"We have put so much focus on the goal and whether we reach it that that's been seen as our measure of success," said Karen Erlenbusch, local United Way president. "Going forward, we want to measure success by how many people we've helped."

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Erlenbusch said officials will focus on promoting the United Way's versatile community fund. While the organization raised more than $4.1 million last year, about $1.1 million couldn't be touched by that fund because it was designated for a specific need or agency.

"If, this year, we raise less money but have more in the general fund, we've achieved success," she said, "because it's the community fund dollars that allow us to leverage change in the community."

Mike Willard, this year's campaign chairman, said initial fund-raising response has been positive. He said almost every local employee of Wells Fargo and Sprint PCS -- two businesses targeted by early pledge drives -- agreed to contribute.

The public campaign was launched this morning with a community breakfast and program at the Kahler Grand Hotel.

Erlenbusch said donations to the United Way's community fund are ultimately more helpful than restricted donations because the organization can freely allocate fund money to where it's most needed.

She said community fund donations help people learn the functional and productive skills they lack; get access to appropriate health care; obtain an adequate food supply; and give children opportunities for social, emotional and educational growth.

"The United Way of Olmsted County is focused on uniting people and resources to improve lives in our community," Erlenbusch said. "Together, we will build a stronger, healthier community. And that's what matters."

The Olmsted United Way was to launch a new Web site today that will feature updated details on the campaign. The Web address is www.uwolmsted.org.

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