This Thursday, Dave Kelly will host hundreds of United Way of Calgary and Area supporters who are gathering to celebrate the best in workplace philanthropy. United Way’s annual Spirits of Gold awards honour those who, through their workplace campaigns, contributed to an incredible $55.2-million campaign in 2012 — the most successful campaign in United Way’s history.

We sat down with Shannon Ernst, United Way’s Senior Director of Campaign, to get a sneak peek of Spirits of Gold – and of the new Campaign Co-Chairs who will be announced that morning.

What can people expect at the award ceremony?
We recognize a breadth of organizations. You don’t have to be a large oil and gas company to win an award. There are a lot of smaller campaigns that are tremendously successful. I hope people will realize that there is an opportunity, even if they’re not the city’s largest employer, to do great things with their campaign.

How would you describe the generosity of the Calgary community?
Immense and ever-increasing. It takes 11,000 volunteers to make our campaign work, and so much of that work is done in workplaces. We set out an infrastructure, but it cannot be done without them actually doing the work. Calgarians are so generous with their time, spirit and ingenuity — as well as their dollars. It’s way beyond the generosity of what they actually pledge. It’s what they pledge of themselves, of their own ideas and time and skills.

Why is it important for United Way to say “thank you”?
We would not exist if it wasn’t for our volunteers. We would not exist if it wasn’t for our donors. We could not do the exciting work that we’re very passionate about if not for them. It’s critical to us to make sure that we thank all of those people who put so much of their own heart and their own commitment into making this a great city for everyone.

Why do you think people are so passionate about United Way?
They can see the need around them. They recognize that even though Calgary is growing as a city, with economic success comes social challenges. They also recognize that there needs to be a coordinated response to these challenges, rather than just helping an individual at the point of crisis. I think our ability to collectively attack a number of issues, either through agency programs or collaborations around an issue, resonates with people.

How would you describe the 2013 Campaign Co-Chairs that will be announced?
The Co-Chairs are like the CEOs of our volunteer corps. They are both exceptional leaders. One has spent a career serving the community, and brings an understanding of many of Calgary’s social issues. The other has spent a career in corporate Calgary and can represent the needs of the 900-plus workplaces that run United Way campaigns. I’m thrilled that they have both agreed to lead the campaign team, and am looking forward to what they will bring to the 2013 campaign!

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