The United Way of Douglas County has sounded an alarm that it is only about halfway toward this year’s ambitious goal of $1.8 million, in an annual campaign that was to have ended Friday.
Organization and campaign officials concede that it is unusual for the effort to find itself so short of the mark, with only about $925,000 in hand, at this stage of the yearly drive. Most county residents probably assumed the campaign would meet its goal — as usual.
The 29 social service agencies that rely on the umbrella organization’s fundraising efforts for their support obviously are at risk. Some might suggest that the United Way itself may be also, if agencies ultimately were to adopt an every-man-for-himself attitude in order to campaign for their own operating funds. Such an eventuality would be detrimental to the agencies in the long run and to the communities in the county.
The organization has said it will continue to accept contributions past the campaign’s deadline in an effort to meet the goal, although they acknowledge that it’s unlikely they’ll match even the $1.7 million that was raised in 2011.
Several possible circumstances are considered as likely influences on the results to date. One has to be the general economic situation across the country. Unemployment and layoffs continue to affect Douglas County, with unusual buyouts at Kansas University providing just one key local signal of the national doldrums.
A second influence may relate somehow to the presidential election cycle. United Way leaders noted that the last time the drive fell short of goal was in the year of a presidential election.
A third, United Way officials acknowledge, could be concern or skepticism about changes and restructuring in how it now is allocating funds. The organization created three broad community goals (education, self-sufficiency and health care) and required participating agencies to show how their mission relates to at least one. That changed the allocation of funds, caused budget problems for some agencies, and may have upset some donors as well.
It’s difficult to measure the success of those changes after a single year, but United Way officials report they’ve already seen good early results in programs that received targeted funding to help boost student achievement. In the self-sufficiency area, a plan has been developed to improve coordination among several local food pantries by placing their management under a single agency. A 2012 United Way grant also allowed Health Care Access and the Douglas County AIDS Project to co-locate to better serve community needs in a more cost-effective way.
Only the United Way leaders themselves can evaluate the strategy, leadership and effectiveness of this year’s campaign, compared with previous efforts. If they determine that internal changes have affected annual giving, leaders need to step up to better explain their strategy or consider further changes.
Regardless, the community needs to recognize, with additional financial support, the value and importance of a unified fundraising campaign for essential social service agencies that face greater demands year after year.
It’s not too late to give; it’s never too late to support worthwhile agencies that serve our community well.