United Way fights turnover

By Todd Cohen

To attract and retain staff in the face of high turnover, local United Ways in North Carolina aim to improve pay, benefits and working conditions.

Among 53 United Ways with at least one full-time staffer, roughly 60 CEOs have departed since early 1997, says Jim Morrison, president of the United Way of North Carolina.

“Mostly we’re losing people on compensation and benefits,” he says.

The statewide organization has commissioned a study comparing United Way salaries with those paid by other groups.

“It’s my belief that we will find that the compensation is higher for comparable positions in the private for-profit sector, and certainly in the community,” Morrison says.

In its search for a new president, for example, the United Way of Greater High Point found a “regional discrepancy” in compensation, with United Ways in the Southeast trailing those in other regions, says Tony Cardoni, board chairman.

That could eliminate some strong candidates from smaller United Ways with compensation exceeding the range of $65,000 to $100,000 for the High Point job, he says.

The Triangle United Way is running its annual fall drive after losing three key fundraisers, some for higher-paying jobs in the region, although CEO Craig Chancellor says turnover and compensation are not problems.

Ron Drago, CEO of United Way of Forsyth County, says the United Way system generally offers inadequate training and pay to senior staff, who face growing pressure to do more with less and can burn out quickly.

And United Way campaign officials, typically on fast career tracks, can find little room to advance at their own organizations, he says.

In one effort to boost training, Wake Forest University offers free scholarships for its executive MBA program to staff of United Ways in Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Charlotte and their member agencies.

And the United Way of North Carolina has teamed up with United Way of Central Carolinas in Charlotte to create a statewide health-insurance alliance, building on a plan the Charlotte United Way offers to its 80 employees and 92 member agencies.

The plan covers 850 individuals in Charlotte and at the United Way of North Carolina and 11 other local United Ways.

Larger groups typically can pay 5 to 10 percent less for coverage than do smaller groups, says Harry Stokes, CEO of Contemporary Benefits Design, the Matthews broker that offers the statewide plan.

The United Way of Alamance County in Burlington, for example, saves more than $5,500 a year through the group plan, says Dave Knots, United Way president.

United Way of Central Carolinas also is considering working with smaller United Ways to combine back-room operations such as payroll, human resources and finance, says Diane Wright, vice president for marketing.

And United Way of Greater Greensboro soon will review personnel policies, aiming to strengthen family leave, says Neil Belenky, United Way president.

“Working conditions are becoming very important,” he says. 

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