Meet York’s United Way Leadership Campaign co-chairs

Eileen Fischer and Mike Graham share a very special bond. The pair are this year’s leadership campaign co-chairs for York University’s 2005 United Way Campaign. Both have a deep commitment to ensuring that York University reaches its campaign goal of $185,000.

Donations made through York’s campaign go to the community fund of the United Way of Greater Toronto, an umbrella agency that assists 200 social and health groups who work on the frontline to help people rebuild their lives. In addition, donations to this year’s campaign can also be directed to assist students at York University who experience financial hardship.

Whether the beneficiary is the community fund or York students, both Graham and Fischer agree that this year, the need has never been so great. From poverty and homelessness to families in crisis and programs for students and youth – there are countless reasons why the number of people seeking help from the United Way continues to grow.

“People at universities may know more than most the great support that United Way funds build in our communities for families, children and young people and the elderly,” said York’s President and Vice Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden. “There is so much need and I hope that York people will respond generously at the leadership level. It makes a huge difference to all our lives.”

Leaders inspire others by their example and form the foundation upon which the community draws strength. York University’s United Way Leadership Campaign members contribute at least $1,000 annually (about $1.43 a day). They are the base of a strong network of support for the communities and organizations that benefit from York’s annual United Way Campaign. Their continuing leadership is an integral part of the tradition at York of meeting campaign targets. Leadership giving is a powerful statement to the thousands of families in the Greater Toronto Area that receive benefit from the United Way Campaign.

Right: Mike Graham (left) and Eileen Fischer

Fischer holds the Kraft Foods Canada Chair in Marketing in the Schulich School of Business, where her areas of expertise include entrepreneurship and consumer behaviour. She has been a faculty member at York since 1988. Fischer’s commitment to the United Way has grown out of an appreciation of how the organization supports smaller, less well-known charities that play a vital role in the lives of those who are members of marginalized groups and communities.

“When I think of the United Way, I don’t see a big faceless charity. I imagine a vast array of small, grass roots organizations that are helping people from Toronto’s many diverse communities,” says Fischer. “Sometimes it is the smallest organizations that meet the needs of the most vulnerable, and I know the United Way plays an absolutely vital role by helping smaller, less visible charities access resources that they badly need.”

She sees these small charities as having a lot in common with young for-profit enterprises. Like them, they lack the visibility that is necessary in order to get required resources from external stakeholders. Fischer feels strongly that the United Way effectively supports a wide array of local charities whose leaders understand the very vulnerable segments of society, and that it helps to ensure these charities have the opportunity to deliver programs to those most in need.

An added incentive for this year’s campaign is the promise by Canadian philanthropists Don and Anna Johnson to match leadership donations made to the United Way family of organizations. “I’d love to see us increase our base of leadership donations over last year’s levels so that we take advantage of the Don and Anna Johnson United Way Leadership Challenge grant,” says Fischer. “It’s such a great opportunity to make our dollars go further.”

Mike Graham shares his co-chair’s enthusiasm, adding, “People helping people comes to mind when I think of United Way.”  His commitment to this year’s campaign comes from the first time he stepped onto the York’s Keele campus where he felt a tremendous sense of community. 

“My goal for the leadership component is to add the personal touch to the campaign,” said Graham. “This is so critical to engaging staff. I have already seen the success of this personal approach in Facilities Services’ enthusiastic support of York’s 2004 United Way Campaign.”

Those interested in making a difference should contact Eileen Fischer at ext. 77957, or Mike Graham at ext. 55530. Visit the United Way of Greater Toronto Web site to find out more about how your donation works to assist social and health agencies in the Greater Toronto Area.