Letter to the editor – United Way takes on big issues

To the editor,

After reading your opinion piece in the Philanthropy Journal, I realized you are very misinformed about how United Ways across the nation are changing and about United Way’s history.

First off, we don’t have a “national boss”: Each of the 1,400 United Ways across the U.S. is independent and autonomous. We are each governed by local volunteers who set local policies and procedures that are appropriate to the community each United Way serves. The United Way of America does not have any governing power whatsoever in terms of how each United Way makes decisions regarding funding or any of its administrative procedures.

As a result, not every United Way volunteer board of directors in the country voted to “ban” the Boy Scouts. In fact, fewer than 5 percent of the 1,400 United Ways decided to end their relationship with their local Boy Scout chapter in terms of funding. Many of those still promote Boy Scout volunteer opportunities and provide product donations to the organization. Fewer than seven United Ways chose to stop financial support to their local Boy Scout chapter because of the Supreme Court ruling four years ago. Most of the other 70 or so United Ways chose to discontinue funding to the Boy Scouts because of the organization’s inability to measure its outcomes, keep its funding local and/or maintain a fiscally responsible budget.

Finally, United Ways are changing to address each of their communities’ most challenging issues. In my particular community, United Way hasn’t provided funding to agencies in over 10 years and we are not unique. We have moved to an request-for-proposal program funding model that allows our dollars to reach the people who need it most through a competitive granting process. Each program that is funded matches an indicator to an issue that has been assessed as most critical.

Furthermore, our funding is just one of the types of resources we are actively investing. Volunteer mobilization, in-kind product donation drives, training, advocacy and collaborative efforts all have equal weight in our efforts to address our community’s most pressing needs in the most effective way possible.

There are few other nonprofit organizations that can leverage the support of the corporate, faith-based, government, education, nonprofit and private sectors the way United Way can to alleviate symptoms, find creative solutions and promote civic engagement.

We are not “dividing” the community, we are taking on the larger issues that single agencies simply cannot. Since many United Ways aren’t funding agencies, the designation model is outdated and old fashioned.

We are concentrating our donors’ time, talent and treasure to measurably decrease the instance of specific critical issues in our community in collaboration with the most appropriate partners to accomplish this monumental task.

So, please, in the future, remember there is not one single blanket comment that could possibly be true of every single United Way in the country.

I believe United Way’s biggest challenge is in educating people about the complex and efficient way we are improving the lives of those who live and work in our community and dispelling any incorrect information that sabotages those efforts.

Tiffany Haworth Vice President, marketing & creative services, United Way of Lake County, Gurnee, Ill.

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