For more than a month, hints have popped up around town — representations of this year's United Way of Central Missouri theme — sports.
The super-size high-top Converse sneakers mark businesses as United Way of Central Missouri "pacesetters" — a group of 32 businesses and agencies that typically raise about half of the organization's annual fundraising goal. Its goal this year is $2 million.
Pacesetters complete their campaigns as other businesses begin theirs.
The nonprofit uses the success and leadership of the pacesetters to inspire more than 250 area businesses to conduct their own fundraising campaigns.
The agency held an appreciation breakfast Thursday morning for businesses that will begin their campaigns Sept. 1.
This year's campaign co-chairs, Missy Dunn and Ryan Freeman, said they'll attend more than 200 rallies with businesses' staffs over the next month to help cement the need for employees' help in raising funds.
Seventy percent of money raised for the organization is done through payroll deductions.
"We're not asking people to change their lives," Freeman said. "We stress that $1-$5 per paycheck goes a long way."
He explained $1.6 million of more than $2 million raised in Central Missouri came from individuals.
Several years ago, Freeman said, his family (at Freeman Mortuary) gave as a company to the United Way annually. He and his father knew employees worked hard for their money and didn't realize how generous they could be. Once the employees were given a chance, they jumped on board, he said, and all of the employees contributed that night.
Dunn emphasized to the business leaders Thursday in the Hawthorn Bank Community Room that they should keep stories like Freeman's in mind.
"Employees are grateful for the opportunity to get involved," Dunn said. "They love the opportunity to be able to give back."
Organizers of businesses' campaigns should consider giving incentives to employees who contribute. Some put employees in drawings for extra time off. Others have pizza celebrations.
Some businesses give employees chances to do volunteer work on paid time.
On top of it all, United Way of Central Missouri President Ann Bax said, people are beginning to connect with nonprofit organizations — including those that aren't United Way partners — on the agency's website.
The online Volunteer Center lets people get involved how and where they wish in Central Missouri — as individuals, families, groups or companies.
The portal is intended to connect organizations with people who might not have considered working together. It can be found at unitedwaycemo.org.