PULSE OF PHILANTHROPY: An Unusual Request during an Extraordinary Year

It’s not my habit to write columns asking people to give to a specific charity. At the Door County Community Foundation, we track and monitor the work of every nonprofit organization in our community. More than anyone else, we know how many effective and deserving charities there are in Door County. 

When I encourage people to give to the Door County Emergency Response Fund (, I’m really asking folks to give to a pool of money to be distributed to numerous organizations in our community. There’s nothing in it for the Community Foundation because we charge no fee and take no percentage of those gifts. Elevating a single charity above all others is uncomfortable for me and something I never do except in an extraordinary situation. Yet if there’s one common theme running throughout this year, it’s that we’ve been in one extraordinary situation after another. 

Thus, it seems appropriate that in my final column of 2020, I embrace the extraordinary nature of this year and ask you to join me in giving to a charity that is critically important right now: United Way of Door County.

The first goal articulated in United Way’s Agenda for Change is “helping to meet basic needs for food, transportation, housing, safety and jobs.” That’s the goal most of us associate with United Way and the role it’s ably played in Door County for decades. When the Community Foundation’s board of directors activated our Emergency Response Fund, we invited United Way to partner with us precisely because we wanted to borrow its deep experience in helping to meet the basic needs of the people of Door County.

United Way spreads our contributions among numerous local charities that provide necessities for our neighbors in need. It provides financial support so that groups such as HELP of Door County can assist victims of domestic violence, the Washington Island Community Health Program can offer services on Washington Island, Neighbor to Neighbor can loan out free medical equipment and so much more.

Unfortunately, there are ominous signs that COVID-19 is beginning to hinder the ability of United Way to reach its campaign goal this year.

“The majority of our companies [that run workplace campaigns] pushed back the timing of their employee campaigns by at least a month or two,” said Amy Kohnle, executive director of United Way of Door County. “They are just running their campaigns now. They have until the end of the year to complete those campaigns.”

The early results have not been promising. Those companies that completed their workplace campaigns on the normal timeline have experienced a significant decrease from last year.

“We have seen an average of a 20 percent decrease in the companies that have already wrapped up their campaigns,” Kohnle said. “In weekly conversations with other United Ways across the state, this is the trend that they are seeing as well.”

To make matters even more challenging, Door County’s scarcity of large employers means that there are fewer places for our local United Way to run workplace campaigns. The average United Way receives 93 percent of gifts from employee payroll deductions and other forms of workplace giving. In Door County, it’s 35 percent. This makes United Way of Door County highly reliant on individual donations that come from outside the workplace. Unfortunately, during a global pandemic, it’s hard for United Way to hold fundraising events or visit potential donors in their living room.

Just a few days ago, our Door County Emergency Response Fund and other relief efforts such as and collectively surpassed $1 million in contributions. All of those dollars are needed to respond to the challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Further, many federal and state assistance programs will end by Dec. 31, and if the politicians in Washington and Madison cannot come to agreement, we’ll be on our own as a community. Thankfully, we’ve planned ahead, and the Emergency Response Fund is well positioned to deal with the increased COVID-19-related demand during the winter months, even if the government fails to act. However, we cannot also fill in for a hobbled United Way campaign.

My wife’s and my ability to give is modest, and we spread out our contributions over a wide range of organizations that are important to us. This year, we’re also making sure to do our little part for United Way of Door County. Perhaps more than ever before, we need United Way to be successful in its campaign. Please join us by giving at

Contact Bicoy at [email protected].

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