It's a longstanding partnership that celebrated its 40th birthday last year, and in passing that milestone, it only grew stronger.
The United Way and the Buffalo Bills work together on far more than fundraising, but it's of special note that they collaborated to help the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County raise a record $21.3 million in 2013.
"We've got a great team here and a great level of corporate support including leadership like the Bills," said Michael Weiner, President of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. "It really helps build momentum. Having a partnership like we have with the Bills and over 1,000 companies in this community helps us to mobilize around fundraising to address critical needs in the community. We're blessed to have that."
The Toyota Rookie Club, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and American Dairy Association & Dairy Council teamed up to refurbish the cafeteria at Buffalo's Frederick Law Olmsted HS and teach the importance of healthy eating.
Not only did the United Way set their own record amount of fundraising, but the Bills set the bar on the year as the organization with the greatest increase in donations of all the groups through which the United Way Campaign receives funding
Weiner credits that to the strength of the partnership above all, but pointed specifically to the new 50/50 in-game raffle as a major source of the over $100,000 jump. The raffle was introduced last season as a cooperative effort between the Bills and a number of charitable organizations in Western New York to add a fun, fan-oriented way to give back during Bills games.
"The 50/50 money that went to charity – over $167,000 – ends up being part of our campaign total, and ends up going to charities that are of interest and priority to the Bills," he said. "This, combined with the philanthropy of the Wilson family, special event revenue and other sources all combines for a higher top line overall and with relation to the Bills."
That money goes a long way, but the enduring relationship between the Bills and the United Way stretches far beyond financial support and deep into community projects and outreach.
"It's more than fundraising," Weiner said. "It's the Hometown Huddle. It's Girls in Sports. Now you've got the 50/50 raffle. We've built playgrounds together. We've helped bring programs around health, exercise and nutrition into schools utilizing athletes from the Bills. These are all reflections of the additional commitments that are made by the Bills organization beyond charitable giving."
Of course, in the 'City of Good Neighbors,' the Bills are not alone in their willingness to donate time and money. Weiner says there's no doubt in his mind that the United Way was able to reach their record fundraising numbers in 2013 because of the incredible philanthropic stamina of the Western New Yorkers.
"There's definitely a culture of giving here," Weiner said. "Any charity that relies on fundraising will benefit from this community because this is a community that cares and gives back. It's a very philanthropic community."