Citing a lag in charitable giving, Missoula County’s top administrators plan to rekindle efforts to encourage county employees to give to local charities during their annual campaign.
According to figures presented to county commissioners on Wednesday, just 79 of the county’s 750 employees donated during the last annual giving campaign, for a total of $19,345.
The campaign includes local charities such as the Humane Society of Western Montana and the Missoula Public Library, along with United Way’s 21 charities and Montana Shares’ 41 member organizations.
“We don’t bring in a lot of money each year, so it’s not something we’ve really advertised,” said Cindy Wulfekuhle, director of grants and community programs. “It’s not a huge pool of people who are donating. About 10 percent of our employees donate this way.”
Wulfekuhle said the county has tried a number of approaches to encourage its employees to donate to the campaign, but without much luck.
The county sends reminders out by email and includes them with pay stubs. Employees are also reminded of the campaign when they log into their computer.
“I’ve sent stuff to department heads asking them to forward it to their staff, but I don’t know if they do,” Wulfekuhle said, adding that the county has tried awarding prizes to its top donors. “It’s not unusual to see the same people every year wining them, because it’s the same people donating every year.”
Commissioner Stacy Rye pledged to help staff members find ways to improve the county’s charitable numbers. While working for the United Way, she was in charge of workplace campaigns.
Support from county leadership would help, she said.
“The thing I think that might help in the beginning is support from leadership to enhance the campaign in ways that might not have been done in the last couple years,” said Rye. “Let’s bring in the professionals, United Way and Montana Shares. Let’s get their ideas on what we can do to make this better.”
According to figures, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department has the most employees at 115. During the last campaign, however, only two donated to the charitable campaign, giving $702.
In comparison, of the 24 employees at Grants and Community Programs, 10 gave for a total of $2,382. The Office of Emergency Management gave the most at $2,678.
“People who give to charitable causes goes up as income goes down,” said Rye. “People who don’t need actual tax write-offs give more than people with higher incomes. Charitable giving is fascinating.”
Commissioners agreed to take a deeper look at the issue and find ways to increase giving. But they also cautioned that such numbers can be misleading.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that our charitable contributions are low,” said Commissioner Cola Rowley. “I personally don’t choose to use this program, but I do give charitably to things. This (campaign) isn’t some people’s preference, and just hammering at them too much isn’t a good thing.”
Rowley said she didn’t want efforts to improve the program to cross over to harassment or shame. Some employers in Missoula, it was noted, require their employees to return the charitable forms, even if they don't donate money.
“I feel harassed when people ask for charitable giving, so we really do have to balance that,” said Rowley. “We’re an employer. This is a benefit to our employees and we should give them the opportunity but not harass them.”
Information on this year's annual charitable campaign goes out to county employees in November.