October 29, 2018; Cincinnati Enquirer
Over the last week, NPQ has reported that two of the largest United Ways in the country are having public moments related to declines in campaign giving, right in the middle of the 2018 fundraising campaign season. Now we hear that the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, the sixth largest United Way (UW) in the United States, is having relationship problems with Michael Johnson, its brand-new CEO. Johnson has taken leave, charging that the board, particularly the chair, has been micromanaging and undercutting his work by issuing “subtle threats” and creating a “hostile work environment.” Johnson has only been in the CEO seat since early July, and he is the first Black leader of the century-old agency. The previous CEO was in the position for 18 years.
The timing is tough for the community, since just a few days ago, Johnson warned nonprofits that UW’s campaign would fall short of its projections for the year by 15 to 20 percent and they should prepare for funding allocation cuts. This continues a trend that has been occurring over the last three years, according to local station WCPO, who laid the numbers out:
United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s revenue
2015: $62.1 million
2016: $61.4 million
2017: $56.5 million
This year, the projections have the campaign totals coming in at little more than $52 million. Johnson reports that as revenue decreased over the past four years (before his tenure) due to a reduction in giving, cuts were made in-house, but those options are closing out, so the cuts this year will be made to the nonprofits they fund. At the time, Johnson acknowledged that other some other UWs were having similar or worse declines.
This now-public conflict is unlikely to help this year’s fundraising prospects much in Cincinnati, and beyond that we are not sure what to think. Has the decline in workplace giving simply speeded up, or are the stresses on these campaigns indicative of a larger decline in the proportion of giving coming from middle- and lower-income households? Dr. Patrick Rooney pointed to this trend in his article on the subject earlier this year. Some have been predicting an outright decline in giving, and we can only hope that is not what we are watching.
NPQ would love to hear from readers about their concerns, or lack thereof, as we all head into high fundraising season. Are United Ways the canary in the coal mine or not?—Ruth McCambridge