AUGUSTA — With a brush dipped in red paint, Dorcas Riley marked halfway up the fundraising thermometer to signify reaching 49 percent of the United Way of Kennebec Valley’s goal of $1.5 million for its annual campaign.

“A generous 49 percent,” joked Rob Gordon, executive director of organization, while standing at a lectern Wednesday with Riley, chairwoman of the campaign.

Wednesday’s breakfast, attended by about 270 volunteers and business leaders at the Augusta Civic Center, served as the kickoff for the United Way of Kennebec Valley’s annual campaign held each fall.

The organization, which gives to more than 50 local programs that help people in need, hasn’t surpassed its $1.5 million fundraising goal since 2007.

Gordon said he hopes they can do it this year and expects to reach beyond it in future years.

“Like the rest of the community, we’ve had struggles and challenges in the lean years. I think we’re coming out of that period, and we’re being more successful,” Gordon said. “One of the things that was always true is people never abandoned United Way, even when resources were more scarce; and I think it’s getting better now.”

Charitable giving dropped significantly in the U.S. in 2008 and 2009, from an inflation-adjusted high of $344.48 billion to around $300 billion, according to a 2013 report by Giving USA Foundation and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

Total charitable giving has increased since then, but only to $316.23 billion in 2012. The report estimates it will take at least six years to reach the high of 2007, adjusted for inflation.

United Way of Kennebec Valley has seen a similar trend. The totals generally have been increasing since 2009 but haven’t returned to pre-recession levels.

In 2012, it recorded about $1,435,000 in donations, Gordon said, an increase from its recent low point of $1,237,000 in 2009.

“We have come back very significantly,” Gordon said. “I think you can tell from the spirit in the room this morning.”

He said the organization heard from some people in 2008 and 2009 who couldn’t afford to give as much. Most of the organization’s fundraising came from payroll withdrawals from participating businesses — about 80 percent, Gordon estimated — so fewer workers meant fewer employees giving to United Way.

The owner of one of the companies with the highest contributions to the organization, Charlie’s Family of Dealerships, and his wife were honored at the breakfast with the annual Norm Temple Award for their personal contributions to United Way.

Several volunteers and employees at other nonprofits stood up to thank Charlie and Nancy Shuman at the breakfast on Wednesday for their support of various causes.

Deborah Shepherd, executive director of the Family Violence Project in Augusta, thanked Nancy Shuman for her donations of clothing.

“The clothing you donated to the women in our shelters, it’s not just a coat; it’s not just a pair of shoes; it’s not just a blouse or skirt,” Shepherd said. “It’s a message to these women who have fled their homes with nothing with them but their clothes on their backs, same as their children, that somebody in the community cares about them.”

Both Charlie and Nancy Shuman said they were surprised and thankful to be honored.

“We’re all one community, and we’re all supportive,” Charlie Shuman said from the podium. “These are not good times. A lot of people out of work, a lot of people are trying to find jobs. We’re blessed that we’re able to help.”

He said he tries emphasizing to his employees the importance of charity. Shuman said after the event that when he opened the business 27 years ago with seven employees, he planned to give back to the community if he became successful.

“That’s been my theory since,” Shuman said. “We’ve grown and grown and grown, and because of that, our generosity has been able to grow.”

The United Way of Kennebec Valley’s annual campaign usually runs from August through November, but Gordon said they’re always fundraising and reaching out to new businesses.

The next big event is a party for the organization’s leadership circle — those who donated $600 or more — at the MaineGeneral Alfond Center for Health, the new Augusta hospital scheduled to open in November.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]