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The Journal Gazette

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Friday, May 20, 2016 12:50 pm

United Way cutting funding for 21 groups

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

More than 20 local nonprofits now receiving support from United Way of Allen County learned Thursday that less money will be coming their way for the next three years.

Of the 36 agencies chosen to receive funding in the three-year cycle that begins July 1, only four will see an increase. Five will receive the same amount, and 21 will get less. 

Six nonprofits, including one that helps ex-cons get a second chance, will receive United Way aid for the first time.

United Way’s board on Thursday approved the recommended $2.05 million funding plan, which will funnel $263,787 less to local nonprofits than this year. The total community investment budget was reduced to reflect lower total donations.

Among those that must make up for revenue shortfalls are Early Childhood Alliance, the Fort Wayne Urban League, Neighborhood Health Clinics, YWCA and SCAN. The five nonprofits’ funding cuts range from $65,000 to $26,000 a year.

Four committees, each one focused on a United Way priority, made the funding recommendations, said David Nicole, the local United Way’s president and CEO. Focus areas are: early childhood education, education and youth, basic needs (including health care), and financial stability.

Each committee included eight to 15 volunteers who reviewed applications. They weren’t told how much money various agencies received in past years, so a decision to designate less money to a nonprofit shouldn’t be interpreted as criticism for how United Way funding was used in the past, Nicole said.

But volunteers did judge how successful programs have been at meeting goals and how well those goals align with United Way’s priorities. They reviewed financial documents and looked for well-managed operations.

"Decisions are made for all applications based on: Are they reaching the target populations – the under-served populations – and doing a great job of it?" said Scott Senger, who is acting past-chairman of the local United Way’s Investment Cabinet.

Comparing agencies that provide similar services to each other makes it easier for volunteers to gauge which programs are more effective, Senger said.

"They’re comparing apples to apples," he said. "Which is the bigger, shinier fruit that’s going to bear more for the community?"

Despite officials’ insistence that discussions remain non-emotional and non-political, volunteers sometimes have trouble sleeping during the difficult decision-making process, Senger said.

Nicole and Senger declined to talk about why some nonprofits will receive less money next year, but they are passing along committee members’ critiques to those organizations’ leaders. 

Early Childhood Alliance, which provides child care and trains child care providers, will receive $75,000 a year, which is $65,000 less than this year. The nonprofit suffered the largest loss in funding, totaling $195,000 over three years.

CEO Madeleine Baker, who received the news only two hours earlier, said she’ll need to confer with her board and staff to find ways they might streamline services to save money.

But, she added, the agency with an annual budget of about $4.8 million doesn’t depend exclusively on United Way for funding. Baker, who remains an optimist, hopes others will step up to offset some of the shortfall by making donations directly to her nonprofit.

Preparing children to succeed in kindergarten lays the groundwork for them to succeed in high school, college and future careers, she said. Baker believes the community’s economic vitality depends on her staff doing its job well.

Early Childhood Alliance served more than 350 children in its two local learning centers last year and trained almost 2,000 adults in 10 counties.

Fort Wayne Urban League, which mentors and advocates for blacks, will receive $55,000, which is a $35,000 decrease, or $105,000 over three years. Jonathan Ray, the nonprofit’s president, couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment.

Blue Jacket Inc., a first-time recipient, was approved for $40,000 a year. 

Tony Hudson, executive director, said the 10-year-old nonprofit will use the money to offset the cost of putting people through the organization’s two-week training program.

"We serve the hardest of the hard-to-employ, and really anybody with a barrier," he said. That includes ex-cons, non-English speakers, the homeless and veterans.

Blue Jacket, which has an annual budget of about $900,000, served 264 people last year. 

Hudson sees it as a vote of confidence that his operation was approved for United Way funding by volunteers who reviewed its goals, policies and procedures. And he’s grateful for that.

Getting the money and being able to help more people, he said, "is just icing on the cake."

Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana will receive the largest percentage increase in United Way funding, almost doubling to $25,000 a year from $13,333. 

Dianne May, president and CEO, said being a United Way-funded organization is fundamental to the nonprofit’s identity. Cancer Services decided in the 1950s to forgo a relationship with the American Cancer Society and instead align closely with United Way.

The agency, which has an annual budget of $1.4 million, is developing a program called Courageous Kids to support children with family members battling cancer.

Cancer Services assisted 2,787 cancer patients last year, and the number continues to grow, said Stacey Stumpf, development director.

"We’re glad to be reaching more people, but we’re sad that we have to," she said Thursday afternoon.

United Way supports Cancer Services and other member agencies by collecting money given through payroll deduction and corporate gifts. 

What money isn’t passed along goes to pay salaries, including for operators working at the local United Way 211 call center, which refers local people in need to agencies that can help them. The 211 operation serves about 46,000 callers a year.

United Way campaigns solicit one-year donations, but it makes three-year funding commitments. Or, more precisely, informs agencies of its "intent to fund" them at a specific amount for the next three years. If donation levels fall significantly in years two or three, those commitments might not be fulfilled.

That was a real possibility in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. 

Local United Way officials announced last year they were facing a fundraising shortfall of $600,000.

In January 2015, the United Way alerted member agencies that financial support would be cut by $400,000 for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2015. Officials planned to dip into United Way reserves to offset the remaining $200,000.

The Foellinger Foundation stepped in with a $400,000 one-time grant to allow United Way to keep its full funding commitments. Foellinger also awarded United Way up to $200,000 in matching grant money to be triggered by new United Way donations of $10,000 or more. 

sslater@jg.net