December 4, 2010; Source: Orlando Sentinel | In Central Florida, 32 nonprofits have signed on for a new combined campaign called Central Florida Gives! The initiative was sparked after the local United Way defunded a number of agencies as it transitioned to its new community impact model. The new platform, predictably, has its critics; among them the local United Way, which forecasts its failure even before it has its oar in the water.

Planned and capitalized by Community Health Charities of Florida as an online forum, Central Florida Gives will showcase a variety of charities on a central site and donors will be able to log on and choose among potential grantees who address everything from wildlife preservation to the care of premature babies. Among the agencies participating are Orlando’s Alzheimer Resource Center, Special Olympics Florida, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Central Florida and the Florida SIDS Alliance.

The group says that it will distinguish itself from United Way not only by its relatively meager overhead and fundraising costs but also by focusing on small businesses and individuals. With this focus it expects not to directly compete with United Way but the fact is, it does provide an alternative centralized way for people to familiarize themselves with local agencies so that they can, for instance, make a monthly pledge or volunteer.

On the group’s website users will be able to directly examine the financial information of participating charities and read stories about people served. The Heart of Florida United Way response has been (ahem) less than gracious. The effort is “guaranteed to fail.” The President and CEO, Brown said. “There would be no background checks on agencies, no monitoring of financial resources, no governance models, no program outcomes required—all the things that United Way does . . . I think it has been put together badly, it’s going to be run badly, and it’s going to be disappointing to a lot of agencies,” he added.

Still 32 Central Florida agencies are excited enough about the prospect of being in front of local donors even without the intermediation of United Way to elect to join up. The website will be launched in June of next year. A core of member agencies is expected to be recruited by the end of December. NPQ has been following a number of regions in which such alternatives are emerging. We’d love to hear from you about any such efforts in your own area and/or get your reaction to this.—Ruth McCambridge