Without the United Way, said Northside Neighborhood House Executive Director Rachel Gammon, her agency's work would be a lot more difficult.
"We would have to determine how to scale back programs," she said, "or to more creatively fundraise."
Contributions from the United Way of Greater Chattanooga make up 15 percent of the agency's budget, Gammon said, and its clients have increased 40 percent in the last several years.
"We have to continue to raise funds to meet the bar that's already been raised," she said.
On Thursday, the local United Way kicked off its 2011 community campaign to fund Northside Neighborhood House and 41 other agencies by unveiling a stretch goal of $11.9 million. The campaign was launched at a combined meeting of the downtown Rotary and Kiwanis clubs at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
Last year, the campaign raised a record $11,950,726 and reached its goal for the 89th straight year.
Tom Glenn, the community campaign chairman, said he felt "very positive" about the precampaign meetings he had with area company executives but did feel "a sense of caution" from some industries.
Nevertheless, he said, "my sense is we'll raise what we did last year," when the base goal was $11.5 million. "That's what I hope."
Glenn said the campaign already has $2 million in pledges, just slightly ahead of last year, and he hoped this year's effort also will lay the groundwork for future drives with Volkswagen and its related businesses.
"Those will probably be dollars in future years," he said.
Keynote speaker Jim Conway, an author, consultant and trainer with years of experience with professionals and volunteers who work with youth, said the fact that United Way is leading the work for a community challenge such as Ready by 21 -- which supports successful outcomes for youth -- is critical for young people today.
"When average citizens say, 'I have a role in this,'" he said, "people come out of the woodwork."
Kimberly George, marketing and development director for the Salvation Army, said while the 2.5 percent of its budget funded by the United Way is important, the organization adds value with the partnerships it offers.
"The United Way pulls a lot of community leadership together," she said, "so we can work in tandem."