Michael Covey, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Potlatch Corp., doubled his workload this fall, when the 52-year-old leader of the forest products company also agreed to lead Spokane County United Way’s annual campaign.
The goal of the campaign, kicked off Friday: Raise $5 million to help fund more than 50 programs that serve the community’s greater good.
Potlatch is also one of 10 companies that contributed to a $95,000 “challenge grant.” The money will be used to match new donations and match any increase in donations by regular givers.
Q. Why did you say yes to being chair this year?
A. The need is huge in Spokane and it’s critical for business leaders to set an example. About 75 percent of the giving to United Way comes from employees of the top 100 companies in Spokane County. I firmly believe it starts at the top.
In our company, 100 percent of our employees participate. My wife and I make a big commitment to it – in money and in time.
Q. How do you get 100 percent participation?
A. We provide incentives. It doesn’t cost the company much. If you contribute to United Way, no matter how much it is, you get your name entered in a raffle for an airline ticket.
Our employees (had) the opportunity at the kickoff Friday to volunteer. We pay for their time to do that. I do it, and our executive team does it, and it sets a great example. It doesn’t take much coercion.
Q. How do you ask for more money in a down economy like this?
A. We don’t have to ask for more, we just have to ask for participation from people who haven’t participated before.
Only a quarter of the people now give. With the economy the way it is, if you’ve never given before, why start now? Because the poverty rate in Spokane County is high relative to state standards.
It doesn’t take much to drive around Spokane and see families living in cars and such things.
Even if you’re making close to minimum wage, (give) $1 a week. It adds up; $52 a year goes a long way. The need is huge.
Q. Can you describe one Spokane experience you’ve had with people helped by United Way?
A. We did a volunteer project as a company last year at YFA Connections, which is a home on the South Hill for youth in crisis. They have no place to go. They have no food. They have no place to sleep. Often they face drug and alcohol (problems) or it was in the family they came from.
The home has beds set up for 10 to 20 teenagers. It’s a place that provides love. The kids go there until they find a foster location or get the home situation repaired.
We met the kids. We met the counselors who run the program. We painted rooms, cleaned carpets, put in a sprinkler system. We had half our office spend the day. I think every one of us left thinking our contributions to United Way are well-spent.