Archive for Monday, August 31, 2009

United Way facing economic double whammy

As charitable giving decreases, need for social services increases

Kayden Frick plays with a Thomas the Tank Engine toy from his cot during nap time in the 4-year-old classroom at the Ballard Center in North Lawrence. Ballard Community Services, which operates a preschool and food bank, is a local organization that receives support from the United Way.

Kayden Frick plays with a Thomas the Tank Engine toy from his cot during nap time in the 4-year-old classroom at the Ballard Center in North Lawrence. Ballard Community Services, which operates a preschool and food bank, is a local organization that receives support from the United Way.

August 31, 2009


United Way campaign under way

The Douglas County United Way fundraising campaign is kicking off -- and the needs are greater than ever, given the economic recession. Enlarge video

Cheryl Wright was worried about what to do with her son as the end of the 2008 school year approached.

In April 2008, her son’s best friend, Keenen Brooks, died from a cancerous brain tumor. After Keenen’s death, the then-14-year-old August Swanson was depressed — not wanting to go to school or be around his other friends.

“It was extremely hard for him and all of us,” Wright said.

A single mom with a full-time job, Wright was anxious about what August would do once classes stopped.

A few weeks into summer break, a friend called and encouraged him to come to the Boys and Girls Club. With the program, he swam, roller skated, played games and interacted with peers and counselors.

“That was the first time I really saw my son come back to life and happiness come back to him,” Wright said.

It’s that experience that has prompted Wright — an assistant in the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office — to encourage fellow Douglas County employees to give money to the United Way campaign.

During a time of economic hardship, the Boys and Girls Club, like many other agencies funded through United Way, has seen its need for services increase.

Fifty students are on the after-school program’s waiting list, United Way campaign Chairman Scot Buxton said. Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Janet Murphy said that by the end of the school year, the club anticipates adding 300 more students.

This month, selected businesses began asking for employee donations for the United Way’s fundraising campaign. The nonprofit’s overall fundraising goal won’t be announced until the official campaign kickoff in September.

Despite the bad economy, Buxton said this year’s goal will be higher than the $1.72 million raised last year. It’s a decision that has been questioned by some community members.

“(People say) well, the economy is struggling and people are in hard times. And you surely aren’t going to increase your goal,” Buxton said. “The answer is yes we are going to increase our goal. Because the flip side of the coin ... is people are in far greater need than they ever have been.

More with less

From health care services to programs helping children, the 26 agencies under the United Way umbrella have all helped more people this year due to the economy.

Among them is Douglas County Court Appointed Special Advocates. The strain of losing a job and financial hardships can often trigger more child abuse and neglect cases, Executive Director Diana Frederick said.

So far this year, the nonprofit has served 58 children who are in the court system because of abuse or neglect. With children on a waiting list and several new cases arriving last week, the agency could soon exceed the 66 children it served in 2008.

The Ballard Center has seen a 48 percent increase in its programs, President and CEO Dianne Ensminger said. The center is feeding more than 500 people a month. At the same time, food and monetary donations aren’t as strong as they normally are.

“We had to go and buy food. We have never had to do that and last week we just had to,” Ensminger said.

One day this summer, the center had a mobile food pantry with fresh produce and it attracted about 400 people.

Erika Dvorske, president and CEO of the United Way of Douglas County, can rattle off several more agencies that have seen a boost in clients. The Douglas County Dental Clinic had significant increases for patients needing emergency dental care and those who couldn’t pay anything. A lost grant contributed to a nine-week wait for patients wanting to use the Health Care Access Clinic, Dvorske said.

While the need is greater, fundraising has proved challenging.

At the Ballard Center, Ensminger worried about lining up corporate sponsors for a golf tournament. Sponsorship of the Red Dog Run for the Boys and Girls Club wasn’t as high as in years past.

At CASA, the organization is in the midst of looking for a new home, saw a cut in state funding and didn’t raise as much money as in previous years during its annual fundraiser. To help counteract those setbacks, Frederick said CASA is reaching out to attract new donors.

“We have faith we will come through this challenging time,” she said. “No doubt, the combination of an increase in need and decrease in resources is a difficult combination.”

CASA isn’t the only local nonprofit that has made attempts to adapt to the poor economy.

While still offering one-on-one services, Trinity In-Home Care is looking to bring together clients with disabilities for group care. It’s one way to deal with the agency’s increased patient load.

“It’s mutually beneficial for clients and the budget,” Executive Director Kelly Evans said.

Staff at the Ballard Center are mastering the power of social media through Facebook and blogs.

On Sept. 26, GaDuGi SafeCenter is hosting a car show and music festival at Broken Arrow Park. It’s the first major fundraiser for the nonprofit that works with sexual assault victims.

“If we could bring in $3,000 I would be really pleased,” Executive Director Sarah Jane Russell said.

Giving back

It’s within this climate of heavily used social services that the community will be asked to donate.

At Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the United Way campaign has adopted the phrase “Pay it Forward.” The logo is in appreciation for the lengths the community went to raise money for the hospital’s construction campaign, LMH recruitment manager Lisa Kutait said.

Willis HRH, an insurance company in downtown Lawrence, typically has a 100 percent participation rate from its employees in the United Way. In efforts to keep participation high and donations up, this year the company has cut back on requests from individual nonprofits looking for donations, said the company’s campaign chairwoman Sara Dawson. Instead, it’s focusing on the United Way.

“Our employees here are overwhelmingly generous. They always have been and they will contribute if you ask,” she said. “To reduce some of the burden, we cut back on what we were doing.”

At Douglas County Bank, employees are paying to wear jeans to work, holding garage and bake sales, and giving customers a chance to purchase paper cutouts to raise money for United Way. The garage sale, especially the kids clothing, was a hit. Some of the other activities haven’t been as successful.

“People are kind of watching their pennies and where they are putting their money,” said Wendi Morris, who is the campaign coordinator for Douglas County Bank.

This week, Douglas County government will have its hot dog day for employees. Proceeds from sales will go to the United Way. Cheryl Wright is organizing the donation efforts of the 465 employees who are with Douglas County government, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and the Douglas County Extension Office.

While the hot dog fundraiser is always a success, Wright finds one of the more effective methods of encouraging donations is educating her co-workers about all the work the United Way agencies do.

“When you start talking about money, everyone starts talking about how hard everybody has it. But as soon as they finish talking about that, the next thing they start talking about is they know how great the need is out there. And, then everybody realizes how fortunate they are. And that makes them want to give,” she said.


Machiavelli_mania 4 years, 7 months ago

I love the Ballard Center, do not like the United Way. Will give directly to BC soon.


none2 4 years, 7 months ago

I too would have to admit there does seem to be a lot of pressure to give to the UW. It is also a raw deal for commuters as the UW donations through work typically go to the chapter in the area where you work -- not where you live. Thus if you work in KC or Topeka, donations go to their charities instead of ones located here.

I can understand their attraction in that you have one non-profit at a certain time of the year instead of umpteen year round. I would think the best compromise would be to find out what charitable entities they fund, and simply give directly to the ones that interest you. As others pointed out, why pay the middleman when more of your money can go straight to the charities of your choice.


volunteer 4 years, 7 months ago

I agree with those who sound disgruntled about being required by corporate bosses to contribute to United Way.

Now I try, instead, to give my time to the nonprofits. Those in a position to donate several hours a week are deeply appreciated.


roger_gilchrist 4 years, 7 months ago

kansasfaithful........Boy, I can't tell you work for the United Way. Let me guess, you're not going to let us post again until we fill out the donation sheet. I used to get upset at work when they would say "Only two people in the office have not donated to the United Way!. We know it's totally confidential, but the people who didn't donate are right over there"...What a crock of !@#$. They know exactly who has and hasn't donated, and they use their name and "goodwil" (lol) to bully companies into getting their employees to donate in turn for the United Way name!!! The United Way is evil!!!!


Boris 4 years, 7 months ago

No Kansasfaithful, I will not give them anything. When I was in the service, they held a formation and passed out the donation slips, You were not dismissed until you filled out one. I will never give to them again.


Dan Eyler 4 years, 7 months ago

United Way is a good charitable organization. They made mistakes in the past. I think it is extremely important to have a couple large national organizations that have little government interference that are able to provide for those in need on a large scale. As long as they stay clear of government and political influence they do a fairly good job of fund raising for some really good charitable organizations. I also think to be charitable you have to give consistently and at times with a certain level of trust that has been challenged over the years. Giving through work is a pain and United Way pushes employee participation. I work for a large non profit and each year we have our rally. But in the end I think United Way over the long haul are able to assist more people on a large scale and there is a serious need at this very moment. 16% of our population is unemployed nationally. Give UW a break. Look a little closer and think about who is doing any better on such a large scale. Give them 2 bucks a paycheck and be thankful your not on the receiving end of the UW charity. Many others are.


Boris 4 years, 7 months ago

Wou are really a strange person, logrithmic.


logrithmic 4 years, 7 months ago


The $trillion dollar annual defense budget is killing the American economy. We cannot continue to fund bloated give aways to WMD manufacturers and their toads in the Pentagon and continue to maintain the American quality of life. Something has gotta give....

And the rightwing is there to tell you that your healthcare and safety net will give. They make a large outcry over a $trillion projected spending for healthcare over 10 years. To help you.... But when it comes to the $trillion yearly outlay for the Pentagon, they can't fall over themselves fast enough to rubber stamp it - without any public discussion or town meetings at all.

We are witnessing the decline of America. Over 3 million are seriously behind on their house payments. The downward deflation spiral shows no sign of abatement - wrecking asset values and people whose net worth has been tied to their house.

We are in a world of hurt. And the rightwing attacks the social net like the good Christians they are.

God so bless!


Nikki May 4 years, 7 months ago

And, if you give to the individual places, you can choose not to give to the ones you don't really want to support anyway. I know when you fill out those forms at work about what you are giving, you tell them what you want to send yours to, but there is no guarantee.


toe 4 years, 7 months ago

Giving directly is so much more rewarding. You cut out the middle man and your donations are received 100% by the charity and most companies that match donations will match a direct gift as well.


Agnostick 4 years, 7 months ago

Forbes has a decent section on charity efficiency:

There's also Kansas Charity Check:

Kansas Charity Check does a good job of telling you whether or not a charitable organization is registered to operate in the state of Kansas... and they'll tell you how much of their collected money is eaten up by fundraising expenses... but that's about it. There's nothing about how much goes to the board of directors, versus how much goes to the people in need.

Forbes is the better list... and on that list, the many United Way organizations listed there, don't stack up too well.



UNIKU 4 years, 7 months ago

Agreed. Direct donating is the way to go.


yankeevet 4 years, 7 months ago

I would rather give my money too the individual in need; instead of United Way; it seems they always skim money off the top for their "operating costs" operate without my donation..........


FlimFlamMan 4 years, 7 months ago

I agree that it's very worthwhile to donate to Charities, but why should I pay somebody like United Way to distribute the money when I can do it myself for free.


roger_gilchrist 4 years, 7 months ago

I used to give a fair percentage of my paycheck to the United Way, as well as volunteer some as well. It makes an individual feel pretty good that they are helping people in need. Until I found out, percentage wise, how much of the donation actually went to the kids vs. the board. After that discovery, I quit giving to the United Way. Now, I only donate my money to a charities, such as St. Jude's for one, among others that put 90% - 100% of the money donated back into the charity. I know the United Way helps less fortunate, I won't doubt them that. But with the amount of the money they recieve, not too much of it goes back into the charity, most of it goes into the pockets of the employees and higher ups.


labmonkey 4 years, 7 months ago

If you want to donate, donate directly to Ballard. Skip the United Way middleman.


Commenting has been disabled for this item.