In uncertain economic times, businesses and individuals may be less willing to invest their money. Fortunately, that doesn’t apply to philanthropic causes, said the head of United Way/Centraide Ottawa.

“Charitable gifts can genuinely change or save lives, more so than in prosperous economic times,” said president and CEO Michael Allen. “People’s ability to give might be affected, but not their desire. If anything, it enhances it. They want to help because they that know when economic times are difficult, it has a greater impact on people.”

Allen saw it firsthand last week, when the United Way announced that its 2008 campaign exceeded its $31-million goal.

With the government presence, Ottawa is buffered from some extreme challenges that other communities face, but Allen said the charity’s recent fundraising success also shows “people don’t give because of their feelings about the economy.

“People give because they care about others. They care about the community and want to make a difference and see the impact on other people.”

With a population of more than 800,000, Ottawa is very much a big city, said Allen. “Yet it has small-town values that tend to be expressed in a United Way campaign, where people take responsibility for their neighbours, and problems of the community are their problems.”

At the United Way, that manifests itself in participation rates and levels of giving, he said. Charities here also benefit from Ottawa’s well-educated workforce, especially from its public servants.

How can people give back? The easiest way to help the annual campaign is through workplace campaigns, whether it be contributing to fundraising goals or participating in events, Allen said.

Another way is for retirees to share their skills. The people now entering their retirement years are skilled, financially comfortable, and want to be involved, he said.

While one in three people benefits through the United Way, the charity’s work makes a community a stronger and more livable place for everyone.

“When people give to United Way, it makes a statement as to the values we have in the community and that’s something that affects everybody,” Allen said.

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