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Loned Rangers

Even in lean times, Richmond companies are finding ways to lend their employees to the United Way.


With only a few days remaining in United Way's massive annual fund-raising campaign, the cow is mooing more frequently. But the work is far from finished. A board on the wall, updated Nov. 12 — nine days before the campaign ends Nov. 21 — shows the money raised still falls short of goals everywhere in Central Virginia. The totals are 39 percent short of the goal in South Side; 73 percent short in the West End.

This has been a tough year for the United Way, which hopes to raise $21.7 million for its 60 partner agencies in the Richmond area. And that means a tough 12 weeks for the United Way's "loaned leaders," the 30 people who ultimately have the responsibility to get people to give, give, give.

For more than 40 years, the United Way has relied on "loaned leaders" to make its fund-raiser happen — employees the nonprofit borrows from area companies, which continue to pay their salaries. But these days, that's hard to do.

Guy Chance, one of the leaders, explains: "With corporate competition the way it is today and everybody cutting costs, companies just have a terrible time affording to do that, to actually loan somebody. If somebody can be away for three-and-a-half months they can be away forever, right?" He chuckles.

Chance, 68, is a retired director of market strategy and spokesman for the financial firm Scott & Stringfellow, which asked him to be its loaned leader this year and in 2001 so the company wouldn't have to send an employee. The firm pays his wages, which are "a fraction of what I earned in my peak earning days," Chance says — but, he adds, this isn't a job anyone does for just money.

While loaned leaders were once almost all employees of big companies, this year 11 came from other places. For the first time, several loaned leaders arrived through a staffing agency, which volunteered to find and select the best applicants. Other companies, such as SunTrust and Trigon Blue Cross Blue Shield, then reimburse the staffing agency for the leaders' salaries instead of sending their own employees.

But why are 19 large companies and government agencies still willing to give away their employees for three months? Many see the United Way experience as a sophisticated training program, says Magnus Johnson, United Way's campaign director. "It's not unusual for companies to intentionally select someone who is not as outgoing or not as assured, and use the loaned-leader program to really thrust them into a situation where they can hone their skills."

A loaned leader's job is part salesperson, part motivational speaker, part runner. Each has 40 to 50 sites to oversee in one region around Richmond. He or she travels to these sites to introduce the fund-raising campaign and check on its progress.

Asking hundreds of people to give money isn't easy for first-timers, Chance says. "You've got to understand it's more than imparting information — it's a sort of performance."

No matter how compelling the speech, however, fund-raising is harder than ever this year, the loaned leaders say. After Sept. 11, it wasn't easy, Chance says, but everyone believed the economy would recover. Now, he says, fear of "a double-dip recession" in conjunction with layoffs, corporate scandals and plummeting stocks, means people are extremely reluctant to give.

"There is what is known in financial jargon as 'the wealth effect,'" he says. This means "that if, say, I have $200,000 less in assets this year than I had last year, even though I've got plenty of money, I am inclined to be less generous because I feel poorer — even though the word poor is just ridiculous as it might apply to me.

"We made our goal last year [$21.3 million], by the skin of our teeth, in my opinion. This year, because of the factors I mention, it will be very difficult making our goal."

Nevertheless, the mood remained high and the cow kept mooing last week in the bustling loaned-leader headquarters. The 30 leaders, ranging in age from 24 to 68, have developed a camaraderie born of long hours and looming deadlines.

Someone has posted photographs of the male loan leaders up on the wall, computer-tweaked to add celebrity hairstyles to each head. Someone has brought in chocolate cake and a now-demolished box of Oreos. And recently, the group had a night out at the Have a Nice Day Café. "We all boogied around — and of course, we paid for it ourselves," Chance says. The United Way spends about 12 percent of the money it raises on administration expenses, hence the value of getting its campaign leaders from other companies.

"We count ourselves fortunate, because we do have jobs to go back to," says Glenice Daniel-Chambers, who comes from the Defense Supply Center in Richmond.

"Even though we may not want to go back," says Derrick Lindsey, looking up from a pile of papers, and grinning. He works for the IRS, but when Lindsey makes his rounds, he introduces himself as an employee of the Department of the Treasury, he confides.

Chance looks around at the tables spilling over with papers and laden with phones. He calls it "the throbbing heart of the United Way, of all that they do."

When the campaign is over, he says, "this room will be empty and it will be dark, like a tomb. And we'll have gone in all four directions in the wind, away. And many of us will never see each other again. … It's only 16 weeks and it's over in 20 minutes." S

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