LAKEWOOD RANCH — Fundraising within a foundering economy is hardly a task for the timid.
That’s why the United Way of Manatee County nearly doubled the number of personal appeals made by staff members, volunteers and member organizations to county workplaces in 2009.
The strategy paid off.
Campaign Chairman John Annis announced Tuesday the United Way raised more than $2.65 million, surpassing the Live United campaign goal of $2.6 million.
Annis praised the organization’s staff and 43 member agencies for getting the word out about the need for charity giving in Manatee County. United Way representatives made 135 visits to county workplaces, up from 72 in 2008.
Annis and other campaign volunteers made the appeals, too.
“We were not going to have a campaign where the volunteers just watched the staff do work,” Annis said during the United Way of Manatee County’s annual awards celebration at the Dan and Corrine McClure Center.
Tuesday’s awards banquet featured a military theme as a tribute to Armed Forces Week. United Way Executive Director Jerry Koontz wore camouflage, while Annis taught the crowd military calls and led a cadence with words tailored to the United Way and Manatee County.
Annis and Vice Chair Beth Bender handed out awards to the county’s largest contributors. Publix won the most prestigious honor, the Pinnacle Award, after its employees pledged $612,999. Tropicana received the Hero Award for its employees’ contributions of $361,828.
Tropicana’s giving represented a 19 percent increase from 2008, which meant an additional $67,412 for the United Way.
“The United Way did a great job bringing in the partner agencies to appeal to the employees, and I think that had a big im- pact,” said Bill Poulton, Tropicana’s senior packaging manager.
Like most Manatee businesses, Tropicana winnowed staff during the past year. But United Way representatives made pleas to each shift of workers.
“We just rallied the team up,” said Joe Fernandez, Tropicana’s logistics manager.
“We appealed to all our senior leaders to touch base with their folks, and it just worked. The personal touch, we knew that was a good strategy going in.”
Blake Medical Center’s contributions increased 32 percent, and Raymond James and Associates saw its giving go up by 25 percent.
Annis stressed that 87 percent of the contributions will stay in Manatee County.
“That’s one of the things I love about working for the United Way. It’s not just give money and have no idea where it’s going. It’s staying in our community, and you can see the impact that it’s having,” he said.