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Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017

United Way

Posted Saturday, September 13, 2008, at 10:30 AM

By way of disclosure, I am a member of the United Way of Bedford County board.

We got an anonymous editor comment (people who send stuff like this never leave their name with it) in response to a story last week about the United Way campaign kickoff:

I cannot in good faith, send these folks any money. The Director of the South Carilona Unite Way program was given a 1.2 MILLION pay package just recently. I do donate to the State BSA and the Salvation Army who will give you salaray information of their program on demand.

I run into this all the time. Each United Way is independent and locally-managed. Not one penny of your local United Way contributions goes to this person in South Carolina. (I suppose it's possible that our commenter is from South Carolina, in which case he's entitled to withhold his contribution. But he didn't say so, and he was commenting on our news story here in Tennessee.)

United Way of Bedford County has one paid employee, Dawn Holley, and I guarantee you she works for every penny she makes.

A popular personal finance guru based in Williamson County sometimes discourages his listeners from giving to United Way because he's heard that United Way supports agency X, which he finds offensive, or refuses to support agency Y, which he supports. But what he's responding to are decisions made by individual United Ways in other parts of the country. His own local United Way, not to mention the United Way here in Bedford County, may have completely different priorities. Each United Way makes its own decisions about budget, about which agencies to support, and about whom to hire.

Someone who refuses to give to their local United Way because of the director of United Way of South Carolina's salary isn't standing on principle; they're just looking for an excuse.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Is there a breakdown of agencies to which the United Way of Bedford County contributes?

-- Posted by bettyhbrown on Mon, Sep 15, 2008, at 3:01 AM

Here's a list:


-- Posted by Jicarney on Mon, Sep 15, 2008, at 6:51 AM

Just wanted to know John: what percentage of the financial donation to the United Way (say $100.00 a month) actually gets to the designated member organization - would it not be a wiser move and better stewardship of funds to give directly to the charible organization of my choosing where they could use the entire dollar donation? All of these organizations should be 501(c)3 tax exempted. Why would I want to give my hard earned money through the United Way and have a portion of it deducted for office or other related expenses? And, also what does it costs an organization to be a member of the United Way? Just asking?

-- Posted by volunteerorange on Mon, Sep 15, 2008, at 11:57 AM

According to our IRS form 990, 86 percent of money given to United Way goes to programs while 14 percent to administration.

All of our member agencies certainly accept direct contributions, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with giving directly to an agency that you are familiar with and confident in. But there are benefits to giving through United Way:

* The allocations process. Allocations volunteers -- who are your neighbors and co-workers -- spend many hours each spring studying each and every funding request, reviewing budgets and audits, and interviewing agency representatives to determine where to spend the available money to best meet local needs. By giving to United Way, you have that assurance that the money is being well-spent and that it is being used to meet the highest-priority needs.

I compare it to investing. Some people are confident making all of their own decisions about what stocks to buy and sell. Other people would rather invest in a mutual fund or turn things over to a financial advisor who has more time to research the available stocks, find good deals, stay aware of relevant trends, or what have you. There is a cost to that approach, but in the end it might be beneficial.

Either approach works, but the person who decides to make all their own decisions (whether about investments or charitable contributions) is going to need to put in some time and effort on the research in order to make sure they're making the right choices.

* Payroll deduction. Your employer may not allow employees to payroll deduct for individual agencies or charities. However, because of its community-wide nature, many employers do allow a United Way contribution to be payroll-deducted. That means you can give an almost-unnoticeable amount every week or two, adding up to a generous contribution over a year's time. It's a planned, disciplined way of giving.

Because of the United Way network, you can even have your payroll deducted in one county to support a United Way somewhere else. There are people from Bedford County who work at Nissan (for example) and have their United Way payroll deductions sent back to Bedford County.

I would also like to say that United Way has other benefits in terms of promoting cooperation and dialogue among our member agencies. Agency representative meet on a regular basis to share information and suggestions.

As I said, there's nothing at all wrong with supporting individual agencies. United Way isn't large enough to pay 100 percent of its member agency budgets, so most of our agencies do their own individual fund-raising. They do, however, agree not to do major fund-raisers during the same season as the United Way campaign.

But I really do believe there are benefits to giving through the United Way system.

-- Posted by Jicarney on Mon, Sep 15, 2008, at 2:35 PM

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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.
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