Column: United Way benefits community |

Column: United Way benefits community

by Claire Fortier, Tribune editorial page editor

With nonprofit agencies under fire for real and perceived allegations of mismanaged monies or hefty overheads, it’s tough for most contributors to feel good about giving.

That’s how I felt about the United Way. I served on the United Way board in Virginia for years before the UW president was jailed for fraud and it was revealed his high-living style cost the national charity millions.

I was furious and immediately ended my long association with the United Way. My money

was going to work for real people, not rip-off artists.

That was until I got a phone call recently from Nancy Goedhart, regional manager of Bank of America.

Nancy was a neighbor of mine – the kind of neighbor whose house and lawn were perfect, who knew exactly what car to buy and when and who always found the best deals on anything she purchased. Nancy knew to stretch the buying power of a dollar into two or three.

Few people can fool Nancy, particularly when it comes to money.

That’s why she is about the only person I would believe when it came to the United Way.

Even so, I hesitated meeting with her and Ann Cory, the United Way regional coordinator. I told her she had an impossible task convincing me that anything worthwhile could come out of the United Way.

Surprise. She did it.

“We are funding programs here, not agencies,” she said. “If I were going to give money to a local agency, I really wouldn’t know where the money goes. But if I write a check to the United Way, I feel someone has gone in and checked the agency.”

And she should know because she is a member of the local United Way board that not only allocates the money but oversees the programs that receive it.

The United Way in 2000 is a very different organization than the one from which I resigned in disgust more than eight years ago. Accountability isn’t just a buzz word. It’s the bottom line.

The agency doesn’t contribute to other charities. It contributes to programs. If the Women’s Center, for example, asks for money from the United Way, it must submit a proposal for a specific program with a measurable set of results.

“We (the local board) get down to the nuts and bolts. Then we meet with the director of the agency and put them on the hot seat. We ask all the hard questions,” said Nancy.

And the board checks up. Each member of the board will visit each program or each agency at some point before the next funding cycle. If questions arise, the board seeks answers right then, not months later during the funding cycle.

In addition, agencies must file reports on their programs quarterly.

For example, the local United Way allocated almost $10,000 to the Boys and Girls Club last year. That money was used to tutor 50 students a day, to put 50 students through the leadership club and to put 100 students through the after-school smart moves program. That was more than 200 kids who were helped on a daily or weekly basis.

Most importantly, the money raised at the lake stays at the lake. Less than 1 percent of the money goes to the national organization. Only 8 percent goes toward the regional United Way.

Those figures are considerably different than the 25 percent skimmed off the top when I was on a local United Way board.

“If the money wasn’t there, there would be a lot of kids who would not be helped,” said Nancy. “Every board goes through its ups and downs. They aren’t perfect, but overall the good is far better than nothing at all.”

OK, Nancy, you talked me into it. Here’s my check.

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