More bang for the charitable buck, May 18,2005

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2005

Local United Way agencies are likely squirming a little in the wake of a meeting Tuesday.

Dr. Susan Shi of the Greenville, S.C. United Way told a gathering of local United Way officials, corporate officials, businesspeople, civic leaders and agency representatives about the amazing turnaround their organization has experienced following a reassessment and restructuring of its mission and objectives.

In a nutshell, the Greenville organization is going to stop just soliciting money and turning it over to the same agencies it has year in and year out. Beginning with its allocation this year, it began phasing in its new allocation process with 25 percent of its funding being shifted from the traditional agencies to programs that have a direct impact on the five specific agenda items the community identified as the biggest needs.

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The result: 29 of 43 agencies saw a decrease in United Way funding. That trend will only increase as it continues to shift to the new paradigm.

The Greenville United Way realized that in the new world of charitable given – it has changed dramatically since 9-11 – it’s old way of doing business was quickly leading it down a road to obsolescence.

Workplace donors had fallen by about 7,000 – that’s people not dollars – over the last decade, and while money raised was up thanks to increases in leadership giving, the problems that plagued the community for years continued and the situation had not improved despite the transfer of nearly $100 million to those agencies over a decade.

&uot;It’s not the dollars spent that measure the success of a program,&uot; Dr. Shi said, &uot;but the return on that investment.&uot;

While I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to local United Way officials in depth, I’m sure the local organization has been having much the same experience as Greenville. Nationwide, United Ways’ share of corporate charitable largess has fallen from 13 to 7 percent and the Suffolk campaign has fallen short of its goal two years in a row.

The United Way of South Hampton Roads in the incipient stages of creating a new strategic plan, like Greenville, one more in line with the realities of today’s world and one that will more directly impact the communities it serves. Agencies that have relied on United Way funding in the past would be well advised to begin the same process if they want to continue to receive funding.

Like has happened with the schools, people are fed up with simply throwing money at problems – whether it’s tax money or charitable giving. That way has not worked. Results need to be realized or there’s no point in doing it.