Why United Way is going virtual for the 2020 Campaign, and how you can help

Every year for nearly a century, committed volunteers fan out into our community to meet face-to-face with neighbors, co-workers and businesses to ask for support on behalf of the United Way of Central Alabama. This personal community-based appeal is one of the hallmarks of the annual campaign.

2020 will be much different due to the coronavirus pandemic.  Fortunately, this year’s Campaign Chair Greg King, United Way’s staff and countless volunteers are prepared to meet this daunting challenge.

“I’m a Birmingham guy.” That’s the way King, an Executive at IBERIABANK, described himself when we recently met remotely.  A native of Vestavia, King graduated from Vestavia Hills High School and stayed close to home, earning degrees from Birmingham-Southern College and UAB’s Collat School of Business MBA program.

Since his formative days in banking two decades ago with AmSouth Bank, King has been involved with nearly every aspect of the United Way. “From a banker’s point of view, so much of what you do is reinvest in the community. That’s why I got involved with United Way—first as a donor, and then I was encouraged to get involved and was in a position to do so early on”, said King.

King knows everything about the United Way, inside and out. For years he served on the board and chaired Pathways, a United Way agency that combats women and children’s homelessness. He has served on United Way’s Visiting Allocation Team, the Community Impact Committee, and the board. In 2013, he also led the Pacesetter Campaign, which gave him an opportunity to throw out the first pitch at a Birmingham Barons game.

This year’s campaign theme is Hope Happens. When asked to share a special story of hope that he has personally experienced through United Way, King immediately told us about Janet Gillespie. 

“I remember Janet distinctly from my time at Pathways. She had been a client for a while—homeless and other things. She worked really hard and made the decision that she wanted to change and took what we offered through Pathway. Later, Gillespie earned a top employee award from UAB, her employer at the time. For all of us that was a special day. It’s a great example of what is possible. The campaign this year is ‘Hope Happens.’ I can’t think of a better example of hope happening”, King said.

This year’s annual campaign is like no other. Once King and the staff at United Way realized the world was going to change back in March,  they started reaching out to individual and corporate donors. They did a “check in” to see what United Way could do for them or any of their employees during such an unusual time. It also gave UWCA the opportunity to get some feedback about this year’s campaign. “No one has a playbook that can direct you through a pandemic; we’re all working on a campaign in an alternative way,” said King.

In response to COVID-19, United Way and their volunteers are using virtual platforms and meeting technology like never before. “We’ve come up with some creative ways to try to drive messaging when we can’t be there in person to do so,” added King, “We’ve really had to pivot how we do things. In a strange way it’s been fun—everyone has really had to tap into their creative side.”

Because of the pandemic, our community needs the United Way more than ever.  There are food shortages and agencies that were working on shoestring budgets to begin with are stretched thin. As a lifelong resident of Birmingham, Greg King and countless community volunteers are prepared and ready to boldly ask the community to make “hope happen”. He said, “The need is great and we’ve got to have folks give like they never have before.”