Triangle United Way aims to matter more

By Todd Cohen

DURHAM, N.C. — Triangle United Way raised $11.4 million in its annual fund drive this year, beating its goal by $200,000, and is set to streamline the way it does business.

To better address health-and-human-service needs in Wake, Durham and Orange counties and throughout the region, United Way now aims to be more strategic and effective in raising and investing money, and in forming partnerships.

In 2008, using the same funding formula and priorities it adopted after the 1997 merger of the United Ways in the three counties, Triangle United Way will divide among the three counties the dollars it raised this year.

But only one volunteer “cabinet” in each county – replacing six teams each that have operated in Durham and Wake, and five in Orange — then will decide how to distribute its county’s share of funds among local United Way partner agencies that serve children, youth, seniors, families, health and basic needs.

And in 2009, based on additional changes United Way will make in 2008, the formula for dividing funds among the counties will change, as will the priorities each county cabinet sets for addressing local needs with the funds it receives.

For that first year, at least, United Way likely will limit the degree of change, either up or down, in the share of funds each county receives.

And while United Way will limit funding in 2008 to programs of its 81 partner agencies, in future years it may consider also funding other agencies.

“Allocations will be based on needs, strengths and results, not just historical funding patterns,” John Anthony, chairman of United Way’s Triangle Community Care Cabinet, told 150 volunteer and agency leaders Dec. 5 at a United Way conference to unveil the new system for identifying priority needs and investing money within each county.

United Way also plans to invest some funds, and seek additional funding from other sources, to support as many as two to three collaborative initiatives addressing needs that cut across the region.

For 10 years, the three counties have been “continually getting the same percentage of money,” despite changes in population and demographics, said Anthony, who is executive vice president and chief administrative officer at TrustAtlantic Bank in Raleigh.

But the population and social needs in each county have experienced different rates of growth and change, according to a Community Profile Data Book distributed to the people attending the conference, held at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham.

Between 2000 and 2006, for example, Wake’s population grew by almost 25 percent to nearly 790,000, outpacing both Durham, which grew by almost 10 percent to nearly 247,000, and Orange, which grew 6.7 percent to nearly 124,000.

But between 1990 and 2005, while the percentage of persons living in poverty fell to 13.9 percent in Orange, it grew to 12.9 percent in Durham, and to 10.3 percent in Wake, with the rate of growth in Wake far exceeding the rate of change in Orange or Durham.

United Way soon will form a series of committees that will focus on setting funding priorities for each county and for regional initiatives, and for developing a formula for dividing funding among the three counties.

Once the new system is in place, the volunteer community-care cabinet in each county will distribute its share of funds based on local priorities it has set.

Some volunteer and agency leaders at the conference warned that United Way could face a backlash from donors and partner agencies if changes in the way United Way distributes money result in big swings in the share of funds going to individual counties or agencies.

Some leaders also voiced concern that funding new region-wide initiatives might dilute the current regional effort to end homelessness within 10 years.

United Way officials say a key goal will be to work in closer partnership with each county, and that focusing its funding on local needs and on programs that show they are effective should result in more donors, more giving and better results.

They also said the homelessness initiative will continue.

In the drive that just ended, United Way received gifts of $10,000 or more from at least 105 individuals, up from 70 last year, said J.R. Shearin, managing partner at Deloitte and chairman of the 2007 drive.

United Way, he said, aims to increase that number to 500 donors in five years, and to enlist more companies in the campaign.

“That’s how we are going to raise more money,” he said.

David Strong, president of Rex HealthCare, will chair the annual drive in 2008, and John Stallings, regional president of SunTrust, will chair the drive in 2009.

Craig Chancellor, United Way president and CEO, said the changes United Way is adopting involve “more than just allocating money.”
The role United Way wants to play, he said, is making sure agencies in each county, if not the entire region, understand local needs and assets, the impact of local service providers and funders, and any gaps in services and funding.

“If we as a community have a collective will to bring that kind of focus to the issues we all face,” he said, “we can be a community on the cutting edge of solving human-service problems.”

United Way, he said, “continues to work with agencies that shape programs so people’s lives are different.”

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