Volunteer Spotlight: Ray Peterson

Sioux Empire United Way is very grateful for the leaders of our community who give their time, energy, and passion to our organization. We are grateful for our campaign volunteers who give countless hours building relationships with community leaders and business owners year after year to help Sioux Empire United Way meet our fundraising goal. We have over 600 volunteers who assist with the campaign in some way. During this Volunteer Sportlight segment, we are going to introduce you to our division chairs who serve on the Campaign Cabinet. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for continuous updates.


Name: Ray Peterson
Sioux Empire United Way Volunteer Role: Campaign Cabinet: Team 2 Division Chair for Medium Firms A 
Employer: Five Star Call Centers 

What do you enjoy most about serving on the campaign and what are you looking forward to this year?
It is a privilege to be part of the annual United Way campaign. I know the importance of reaching goal for the 26th straight year, and what that means to funding all the programs that impact so many people in the community. I enjoy working with some great volunteers at all levels of the campaign, people who have a passion for making a difference, along with the Sioux Empire United Way staff, who provide the tools and support that make volunteering easy. 

My first exposure to how effectively the Sioux Empire United Way maximizes gifts came in 2001 during ECM training, and then attending the agency tours really opened my eyes to the needs out there in the community and the great work the funded agencies do helping people. Knowing that 90% of what is raised stays local and goes to support 1 out of 3 people in the community through 80 programs makes giving to the Sioux Empire United Way a great investment.

Spending the past few years campaigning in Team 2, I really appreciate the impact each campaigner has with directly engaging with local decision makers to join with 700 other businesses in supporting the SEUW. This year, I look forward to another successful campaign, supporting our campaigners and their businesses’ engagement efforts and sharing the success stories. Every year, a few people will come up after a rally to express appreciation for the opportunity to pay it forward, ensuring the programs they have used will be there in the future for others. This year will be different with many employees working from home, so I look forward to the upcoming virtual training and new online support tools that everyone at the Sioux Empire United Way have been working hard to develop over the past several weeks.


As the 2020 recipient of the Brent Weiler Bulldog Award, how are you bringing that momentum into this campaign?
It was an honor to have worked with a great team last fall and to be recognized as a Brent Weiler Bulldog. Brent was a friend and colleague who was relentless in his pursuit of the goal. The A-Team produced strong results this past campaign thanks to the persistence, communication and teamwork from everyone in Medium Firms A. We celebrated the wins and pulled together to overcome challenges as they came up. We took to heart the message that “every dollar counts,” and in the Bulldog spirit, when a campaigner reported difficulty making contact with a business or that the business declined to participate, the section chairs and I stepped in to escalate the conversation or made new contacts that secured pledges that would not have happened without the extra effort. One example of teamwork making a difference occurred in late November, when the campaigner reported his contact had left the company, along with the employees who had given the $900 gift the year before. We made some calls and eventually reached the incoming Campaign Chair. What could have been a $900 loss ended up being a $720 gain, including a new $500 corporate gift and some new givers.

For this campaign, I am excited to welcome back the section chairs who really do a great job with their teams and calling on businesses (Nicole Burns, John Coulter, Stacey Blatchford and Shane Jenson) and most veteran campaigners, who all have a passion for the United Way and have been key contributors to past successful campaigns. We have also added some enthusiastic new recruits to help spread the United Way message, and picked up several new businesses to approach for first time gifts.

What advice do you have for others who are looking to get more involved with United Way or any of our funded agencies?
Sioux Falls is an amazing community, strengthened by the generosity of many who are willing to get involved with giving their time and treasure to make a difference. There are organizations out there doing great work supporting children, vulnerable adults and people in crisis, so my advice is to reach out to one that aligns with your passion and could benefit from your talents. The Helpline Center is a good resource to match people with volunteer opportunities. I also suggest checking out the Sioux Empire United Way website to schedule an agency tour and to learn how you can join with 1,000 volunteers in various support roles within the SEUW. For those who like to make connections and aren’t shy about asking others to support a great cause, we can use you as a United Way campaigner.

What are other ways you enjoy giving back to our community?
Programs that address hunger and food insecurity, and those benefiting children have been my focus. I have been privileged to serve on The Banquet’s advisory and executive boards for the past 10 years, and thankful to have served at a time we expanded our reach to meet the growing hunger needs on the westside of Sioux Falls, recently opening a second permanent location at 5th and Marion. I also have taught Junior Achievement at Cleveland Elementary for the past 15 years, and support Make-A-Wish South Dakota’s Wishes in Flight. Our team at Five Star Call Centers takes calls from people donating their unused airline miles so that Wish kids and their families can experience an amazing destination trip and just be a kid for a few days.

What is one program or partner agency that you feel more people should learn more about?
There are so many partner agencies doing great work, but one that I would like to call out is the Helpline Center, for the work they do connecting individuals and families with community services, plus supporting the 24 hour crisis line and efforts around suicide prevention and support.