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University receives statewide recognition for United Way efforts

by Chuck Gordon

Last week United Way of North Carolina recognized Wingate University for its commitment to helping the community with a special award.

In addition to receiving its third consecutive Spirit of North Carolina Award on Feb. 13 in Pinehurst, the University was also one of only five organizations statewide to earn the Excellence in Community Spirit Award, a special recognition given to organizations that set high standards for community engagement and change.

According to Richard Heins, vice president of regional operations for United Way of Central Carolinas, the Excellence in Community Spirit Award is not a nominated award. Rather, after analyzing all of the entries, judges decide to honor one or more organizations that went above and beyond. “It’s sort of like Wingate won an MVP award,” Heins says. “It really speaks volumes for the University, and it really goes back to the University’s motto: Faith, Knowledge, Service.”

The Spirit of North Carolina Award goes to companies that excel in seven “standards of excellence,” including the volunteer culture, leadership giving and involvement, employee-campaign coordination, and participation level. The award was given to 33 companies, including seven from United Way of Central Carolinas. Wingate won in the “higher education” category for organizations with 201-500 employees.

Dr. Rhett Brown and Steve Poston holding Excellence in Community Spirit Award

Wingate routinely has a high percentage of employees who give to the United Way each year. For the past few years, around one-quarter of University faculty and staff members have given a one-time gift, or signed up for a monthly recurring gift, to United Way. Because the University’s employee base has grown as enrollment has boomed, Wingate’s overall giving numbers have increased significantly.

Leadership giving has also nearly quadrupled in the past three years, with the number of University employees giving at least $1,000 to United Way growing from five in 2015 to 19 in 2018. In 2015 Wingate’s overall donation to United Way was $18,852. Last year, that figure grew to $54,393 – a 188 percent increase in three years. In that same time frame, the number of University employees giving to United Way has risen from 121 to 205.

Steve Poston, athletic director and vice president, and the University’s United Way representative, says Wingate’s commitment to giving starts at the top. Dr. Rhett Brown, Wingate’s president, is the campaign chair for United Way of Central Carolinas this year, and Poston and other University employees have served as campaign and board chairs for the organization in past years.

“Dr. (Rhett) Brown's support of the United Way is a major reason for the increase in both participation and total dollars raised,” Poston says.

Giving isn’t limited to financial donations. Wingate also hosts Union County’s annual United Way Day of Caring, in which more than 350 members of the University community team up with other volunteers to do service-related projects.

“Wingate is building that leadership component among the next generation of leaders,” Heins says. “They’re basically teaching students how to get involved in their community. They’re giving them a great education but also teaching the community side.”

“I believe United Way’s commitment to improving economic mobility for our community fits well in our University's mission,” Poston says.