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United Way donations lagging as aid requests continue to rise

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Posted on April 7, 2011 |
By John Flowers



 

MIDDLEBURY — The United Way of Addison County (UWAC) has raised 92 percent ($712,135) of its 2010 fund-raising goal of $775,000 and will soon begin the very painstaking process of allocating funds to the many local nonprofits serving residents in need.

This is the second year in a row that the local United Way has set a goal of $775,000 and fallen just shy of the finish line — though the books don’t technically close on the campaign until June 30 and people still have time to donate. Last year, UWAC reached 95 percent of the goal.

“We didn’t expect this to be another difficult year; I think when we made the budget and set the goal, we really thought the economy was going to rebound faster, but given the state of the economy, we are pleased,” said Helen Freismuth, who is a co-director of UWAC with Kate McGowan.

Statistics provided by UWAC showed some cause for optimism in spite of the lower donation bottom line. The 2010 campaign saw 370 new donors in public schools and Middlebury College, success that officials largely attribute to the good efforts of campaign co-chairs Pam and Erin Quinn. Pam Quinn is a 5th-grade teacher at Salisbury Community School, while Erin Quinn is Middlebury College’s athletic director.

Freismuth noted 60 percent of donors gave at the same level or more this year, and 86 companies and their employees also donated.

Sixty percent of the 2010 donations have come in the Robert Frost category ($1,000 or more), including one large, anonymous gift of $20,000.

“That was a nice boost,” Freismuth said of the large gift, which the United Way used as a matching challenge to leverage more donations.

United Way officials are now turning their collective attention to allocating the donated money, this coming after a review process that began last October.

Competition for the limited funds has never been more fierce. Requests for funding from charitable organizations are up 10 percent this year. Last year, UWAC was able to fund 67 percent of the organizations’ requests, in part thanks to tapping $44,000 in reserve funds. With the resource pool around $12,000 shallower than last year amid more requests, McGowan said UWAC will probably be limited to fulfilling 61 percent of what the organizations will be asking for.

“We are seeing an increased need and sadly a decrease in our capacity to fulfill that need,” McGowan said.

Applicants filled out grant applications last fall, and 25 volunteers convened in December to begin reviewing the requests. The volunteers separated into six teams and visited the organizations in January and February, then met on a weekly basis in March to discuss what they had learned and ultimately made a final funding recommendation that will be reviewed by the UWAC board later month.

“(The teams) were very, very busy,” McGowan said.

Funding applications had to hold up to some intense scrutiny, McGowan said, particularly on the subject of “outcomes.” In other words, organizations are being asked to provide tangible evidence that the funding they are receiving is yielding results through their programs.

“It is a better tool for measuring,” UWAC board President Linda Schiffer said of the emphasis on outcomes. “It also allows the agencies using it to get a better idea of where they are in their own process.”

In essence, the United Way funding process requires the applying agencies to be introspective and map out short- and long-term planning strategies that can help them leverage grants from other sources.

“They can use this as a strategic planning tool for themselves,” McGowan said.

The UWAC funding review also considers, on a scorecard, such elements as program and financial accountability; organizational governance and management; and community collaboration and support for the United Way processes and programs.

“It is a pretty complicated review process,” McGowan said.

A complicated process, but one that UWAC officials believe is warranted given the dollars in programs at stake.

“We have a fiduciary responsibility to those who give us their dollars,” Schiffer said. “We are making sure to protect those dollars and make sure we get the best bang out of the buck that we possibly can.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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