Viewpoint: United Way good steward of community donations

Posted at 7:25 AM on Sep 22, 2017



Over the last five years I have served as one of the 30 volunteers who govern our local United Way, and during this current year I have had the honor to serve as the president of the board. It has been an interesting experience.

I’ve learned so much more about the incredible work that goes on at nonprofit organizations across our community as they work to ensure that everyone has a chance to succeed. I've also learned more about the role that United Way plays in ensuring that this work occurs.

Like many of us, I have occasionally seen information presented as fact on Facebook or other social media platforms that led me to ask some serious questions. I want to know that our organization is being the best steward of donated dollars. We are an organization that relies almost exclusively on gifts from the public and we owe total transparency and accountability to our community. Because of that, I wanted to share with you what I found as I asked the tough questions of our organization:

1) Administration and fundraising expenses.

Over the last three audit periods our United Way has had administrative expenses of 7.16% and fundraising costs of 8.29% of total revenue. This is well below the standard of excellence for nonprofit organizations across the country of 20 percent in combined costs. Additionally for United Way, our fundraising costs are a part of the services we provide to our agency partners. In other words, there is less money spent on the development of workplace giving materials and staffing because there is one central outlet for these services as opposed to our 21 local agencies each having to employ staff and print materials on their own. This efficiency puts more donor dollars to mission than would be the case in a community without a United Way.

The basis for the administrative cost calculation for any nonprofit organization is the annual 990 tax form. Ours are published annually on our website for anyone who is interested in reviewing the details of how our dollars are spent.

2) Our relationship with United Way of America.

Each United Way is a separately incorporated nonprofit corporation governed by local volunteers who decide what agencies receive funding, how much staff get paid, and set all policies and procedures to govern the organization. Our staff salaries are below the average for nonprofits of our size in the Southeastern United States and our highest-paid employee earns an amount comparable to the median household income for our community.

Each year we are required to contribute 1% of locally generated revenue to the United Way of America. Last year that added up to a total contribution of $6,792.33. In return for this contribution, we received substantial training, marketing and program assistance. But an even better deal for our local community comes in the fact that we receive access to funds from large national and international companies whose employees are able to designate their gifts to their local community. Last year these donors provided an additional $45,149.84 that we put to work at our partner agencies right here.

3) So what is our return on investment as a community?

Efficiency isn’t just doing something cheap. It is getting something worth the investment out of the process. In calendar year 2016, your United Way was able to provide our community with grants and direct services valued at $898,368. We received workplace and leadership donations in calendar year 2016 of just under $600,000. That means that for every $1 given to the campaign, we delivered $1.49 in grants and services. We were able to do that through some amazing national partnerships that land resources in our community, our new Endowment fund that provides on-going grant support and through gifts of goods to the Unite to End Hunger and Stuff the Bus drives. I don’t know about you, but if I had an investment opportunity that turned every $1 I put to it into $1.49 in the course of a year, I would be happy with my return.

As a board member, let me invite you to get more involved with your local United Way. We rely on volunteers to do so many important tasks in our organization. And if you ever have any questions or ideas for us to consider, please don’t hesitate to reach out to let us know. In the end United Way is just a tool for our local community to use to achieve the goals and dreams we share for our citizens. I would invite your efforts as we strive to make it the best tool it can be.

Melanie Taylor is the 2017 United Way Board president.

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