Here’s rest of United Way story

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I would like to present what the late Paul Harvey called “The Rest of the Story” with respect to an article published Sunday on the “closing” of the Natchez United Way office. The headline led to an immediate erroneous conclusion.

If you read the article, you still did not come away with a true sense of what actions the board of directors of the United Way took, and why.

The purpose of the United Way is to support local charitable organizations that request funding, providing no direct services. Not every organization that asks gets funded, or fully funded, but we try not to refuse any legitimate organization seeking assistance for their programs. We have processes in place, which include a committee of persons outside the Organization, to review the applications and determine the allocations. The treasurer reviews the results of the annual campaign to determine the amount to be allocated to our agencies, striving for no less than 70 percent of the funds raised. The committee determines the actual individual amounts awarded.

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In recent years, the economy weakened, and we watched campaign totals fall. We also saw pledges not being remitted to the United Way as local employers were undergoing their own struggles and terminating employees. Our campaigns are primarily based on payroll deductions from individuals through their employers, so any losses of personnel at that level directly affects our ability to honor our obligations to our partnering agencies. Monitoring this, two years ago we reduced our paid staff from two to one, along with other budget cuts. We wanted to be certain we were operating within the desired 70/30 range of program services to administrative costs. In the last year, it became more apparent that we could no longer pay anyone. We budget for the agencies first and operate on the remainder. That was tight enough, but with the pledges not coming in as promised, even those expenses had to be cut. Internal cuts, never the partnering agencies. The decision was made to eliminate the paid staff and continue our mission with our board.

We have been doing that for the past several months. Our hope had been to continue, quietly, meeting our obligations with no hiccups in our operations. That is why the mayor, nor anyone else outside of the United Way, knew about it. Headlines like the one published not only brought attention to this situation, but, I believe, did more harm than good. My first thought was how many companies are not going to honor their campaigns because they think we are no longer in need of them, or are not there to receive them, or are not going to let us have a campaign with them this year?

When you pledge your donations to the United Way you are actually helping the organizations you want to support more than if you gave directly. Your donations get pooled with other donors and the recipient agency gets notified of a fixed amount they will receive. In turn, that allows them to budget better because there is one less unknown. Revenue streams are one of the biggest issues a nonprofit organization faces as it is beyond the control of the organization.

If you give $10 a week for 52 weeks any organization would be grateful for your gift. They will be grateful the first time you give it, and every time afterwards. But they cannot plan with that. If we can take your donation of $520 and add it to three other people’s $520 and send the agency a letter confirming they will receive in excess of $2,000, they now have something tangible with which to work. That can be added to a $20,000 grant, for example, that needs matching funds and those $10 donations are now over $22,000. That does a lot of good work in our community.

That is why we are committed to keeping the doors open. We are still the United Way of the Miss-Lou, still operating, and still honoring our promises. We ask for your continued support during this time. We believe that we have taken the best steps to use the resources entrusted to us and we will be back stronger than ever.

Deanne Tanksley is treasurer of United Way of Greater Miss-Lou.