United Way agencies facing dramatic funding changes

A new philosophy by the United Way of Douglas County has caused 2012 funding amounts for several local social service agencies to swing wildly, with some agencies seeing funding changes of about $100,000.

Officials with the United Way recently announced their 2012 funding allocations, and now several agencies are making midyear budget adjustments to reflect new funding realities.

“It is a big change for several organizations,” said Erika Dvorske, executive director of the local United Way. “We’ve asked our volunteers to really look through a whole new lens when it comes to allocating funding.”

Dvorske said the United Way board was asked to not consider past amounts an organization received in funding, but rather to make all allocation decisions based on how an organization’s programs fit into one of three community goals: improving education, self-sufficiency and health.

The new process produced some dramatic changes for organizations. The Ballard Center saw the largest decline in funding, losing about $102,000 in United Way funding compared with 2011. Dianne Ensminger, president and CEO of Ballard, said the loss of funding most greatly will affect the agency’s emergency utility and rent assistance program.

“We know the United Way is working to do what is most appropriate with its new funding model, but it is still disappointing to experience a significant decrease in funding,” Ensminger said.

She said the United Way funding accounted for about half of the emergency rent and utility assistance program. She said the economy has caused demand for such assistance to increase.

“We are seeing more and more families that are ending up at the lake or living out of cars because they can’t get the assistance they need,” Ensminger said.

Ensminger said the Ballard Center is working to conduct more fundraising and will hope Douglas County commissioners can provide an increase in funding for the organization in 2013.

The Lawrence-based Success by 6 Coalition received the largest funding increase, receiving approximately $138,000 more than it did in 2011. Rich Minder, projects coordinator for Success by 6, said the new funding will allow the organization to greatly expand the training and assistance it provides to early childhood education centers in Douglas County.

Minder estimated the organization would be able to provide assistance — everything from direct grants for child-care centers to coaching programs for teachers — to 11 additional early-childhood education centers in 2012.

“In 10 years, I really do believe that anybody in Douglas County who has children zero to 6 years old, and who needs child care in order to work, can be guaranteed high-quality, affordable child care,” Minder said. “We really can get there, and this is a step in that direction.”

But Dvorske said she recognizes the new funding model may mean difficulties for some agencies. Several “safety net” type of organizations saw funding declines, including a $41,000 cut to the The Salvation Army, a $24,000 cut to the American Red Cross and a $23,000 cut to Headquarters Counseling Center. But Dvorske said the United Way was still committed to funding safety net programs. She pointed to a $60,000 increase for the Just Food program, which provides food to people in need.

Dvorske said the new funding system by United Way ultimately will help local nonprofits work together and will allow the community to better track the progress of important community goals. But she also said United Way board members recognize the funding program will leave gaps in important community services.

“We absolutely have a concern that all the needs in the community are not being met,” Dvorske said. “That was true before this change and will be true after it. But we believe how we address those unmet needs are through coordination, planning and setting some goals.”