A large crowd cheers in support of the Pacesetter Campaign result announcement at the Heart of the Community KickOff Luncheon at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
A crowd cheers in support of the United Way Pacesetter campaign announcement at a kickoff luncheon at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. Credit: Courtesy / United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County Facebook

United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County announced Friday that 162 firms and nonprofit agencies described as “pacesetters” have contributed nearly $25.5 million – more than half – towards the organization’s 2017 community campaign goal.

That 54% completion of the $47.5 million goal comes two months after United Way announced its campaign in August. Since then, three hurricanes landed in the United States and Puerto Rico, including the Category 4 Hurricane Harvey, which devastated portions of the Texas Coast and Houston after it made landfall on Aug. 25.

Joe Gorder, this year’s United Way campaign chairman and Valero chairman, CEO, and president, said it’s possible the recent natural disasters have increased the amount of money donors have contributed so far.

“I think in general when people see their neighbors in need of help they reach out and help,” Gorder said. “So perhaps the fact that we had these major incidents this year may have contributed to some additional giving.”

The United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County reduced its 2017 campaign goal by $8 million from last year, said Lyndon Herridge, the nonprofit organization’s CEO and president, last August when the campaign was announced.

Herridge attributed the lower target to several factors, including regulatory changes for contributions by federal employees and uncertainties about how companies, some that had been consolidated or merged with other entities, would manage their charitable contributions.

He then said that he hoped that new business developments in the city would help the organization reach its goal.

On Friday, Gorder said new companies were contributing but declined to disclose specifics. “Companies that are willing to form here, and hire people here, they live here,” he said. “We’re going to see many more companies as we continue to grow our base here.”

United Way officials reported that more than 1,200 people attended the pacesetter announcement luncheon hosted at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg made keynote remarks, noting that competition among individual donors and companies would help contribute to those in need.

“We’re challenging each other because help is needed in our own backyard,” Nirenberg said.

Large companies in San Antonio contribute financially to communities in various ways. Several, such as Frost Bank and other banking companies in the area, launch annual campaigns collecting contributions for United Way.

Others have established their own foundations that allow employees to choose more directly which causes receive their contributions. For example, Rackspace founded Rack Gives Back in 2009, a program that gives donations to seven public schools located around the company’s headquarters in Northeast San Antonio. Those funds are collected though an optional payroll deduction.

Rackspace does not offer the same collection method for giving to United Way. Cara Nichols, the company’s director of community affairs, said that establishing its own foundation gave the corporation the flexibility to contribute directly to the community through contributions to nearby schools.

There are also companies that have created hybrid contribution models. USAA is in the second year of a three-year plan to create more flexible options for employees to donate to charity, said Harriet Dominique, the senior vice president for corporate responsibility.  In addition to collecting funds for the United Way, USAA now allows its employees to contribute to over 100 other organizations approved by employee and retiree vote. By next year, the company will allow open giving to qualifying nonprofits, she said.

Despite changes in how some local companies are managing their philanthropy, Gorder believes the 2017 United Way campaign goal is on track to be met by its December deadline.

“With the start that we’ve got with raising $25.5 million to date,” Gorder said, “I think our target of $47.5 million is clearly in sight.”

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Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.