• Ken Toll

    …so you’ve been bashing the United Way ‘pass through’ function for years. Here a United Way is trying to redefine its role, and you’re bashing that too. But to what end?

    I don’t see any constructive analysis or potential outcome scenarios – just a lot of long quotes which I think are supposed to be somehow self-incriminating?

    After more than a decade as a United Way CEO, I am confident in asserting these facts:
    1. United Ways play a unique, and needed, role in most American communities – to encourage and facilitate philanthropy at all levels, especially leveraging corporate and individual donations. Some of our usual methods and tools are obsolete or losing traction, but I haven’t found any other national network of community organizations that are locally owned and wholly focused on this effort. When a community loses its United Way, that community sees a net reduction of philanthropic revenues to power change, every time.
    2. As you like to highlight, many United Ways are seeing annual reductions in giving. Local politics can certainly play a part in that, and if the Twin Cities did not dialogue with its nonprofit community before embarking on its change, that was a tactical mistake and should be rectified. But there are much larger factors contributing to declining United Way giving than local politics and relationships among nonprofits. The workplace is changing quickly, including less employee allegiance to the employer and less locally-owned employers, and of course a declining relative payscale which is making more and more full-time employees financially unstable and therefore less able to contribute.

    Most United Ways are far from perfect. But we keep trying, including the steps taken by the Twin Cities. United Way is not the real problem; we are a bellwether for a lot of larger philanthropic issues which are rippling through the nonprofit sector. When a local employer is bought out by a distant corporation and its charitable activities cease, what should the community’s response be? The workplace used to inculcate employees with an understanding of giving back to build community – as they increasing abdicate that role, who should pick it up…or what will the cost be if nobody does? Government has increasingly abdicated responsibility for providing human services, and pushed that largely unfunded mandate onto the nonprofit sector – to the detriment of United Way and other local grantmakers, most certainly including those in the Twin Cities. It would be much more interesting and helpful for NPQ to explore some of those trends and issues that are posing a real threat to our sector. Given how quickly any community could find its nonprofit sector turned ‘upside down’ by these changes, I am extremely glad that a neutral and unifying force like United Way remains viable in most communities across the nation.

  • I regularly read NPQ, and have found quite a bit of the content valuable. However, I must say that this organization seems to have some not-so-hidden animosity toward United Way, and I’d really like to understand why. Could someone please enlighten me?