Local United Way support lacking in both directions

Think of United Way funding these days like being married to a millionaire undergoing a mid-life crisis. You thought you could always count on him to support you in the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed. Then he comes home one day and announces he wants to “diversify the funding model.”

Specifically, he wants to take the money he spends on you and use it to support a certain promising young actress. He similarly wants to encourage several of her friends who are also quite promising. How do you feel? Blindsided? Betrayed?

Welcome to the world of the local nonprofit organizations who came to rely on the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley for a predictable stream of income. Granted, the United Way never kept them in caviar. Nonprofits usually operate on narrow margins. However, that’s another reason United Way officials in Salem could have done a better job changing the way they dole out money.

Former United Way CEO Randy Franke told Yamhill Community Action Partnership, Lutheran Community Services and other local agencies that receive funding that the United Way was going to switch to disbursing funds based on calendar years instead of fiscal years.

That was in February. Franke reportedly added how no one should worry. The previous funding model would continue for another year to allow agencies time to adjust. Then Franke left. His abrupt and unexplained departure in May was soon followed by the announcement that the funding system would change immediately.

That decision left a number of local nonprofits suddenly and drastically short of money. New United Way CEO Ron Hays further announced that future funding would be more competitive. Rather than receiving money as a matter of course, local agencies would have to compete with a far wider number of applicants.

All this could have been handled with a great deal more aplomb on United Way’s part. No outside funding source should ever be taken for granted, and certainly other agencies deserve a chance at the money people donate to United Way. However, the new brooms in Salem not only swept clean, they may well have brushed some of their best friends and allies out the door.

The United Way once enjoyed the reputation as a nexus where people could direct their charitable donations, secure in the knowledge the money would be funneled back to worthy local organizations. Employers often offered payroll deductions for United Way contributions. But that model has dried up for the most part, and the overall contributions from Yamhill County to the nonprofit has greatly shrunk, despite Franke’s attempts to reinvigorate the relationship.

People who want to support local agencies such as YCAP and Lutheran Community Services might want to give to those agencies directly without going through the United Way. Funds donated to the celebrated nonprofit will still be well spent. But serious reevaluation is needed for its relationship with Yamhill County to once again prosper.