January 26, 2011; Source: Pensacola News Journal | While the United Way has suffered bad press over high executive salaries and disgruntled nonprofit funding recipients, you don't read many stories about the United Way simply flubbing deadlines. In Escambia County, Fla., the United Way missed a deadline to apply for $89,291 in stat funds that could have been used for emergency food and shelter and then forgot to apply for $192,800 in federal emergency food and shelter funds.
Apparently, these 2009 and 2010 deadline botches weren't the only ones. The United Way of America had noticed Escambia's pattern of missing grant deadlines and told the president and CEO about this problem two years ago. The director of the United Way's community impact programs, a 22-year veteran of the agency, resigned as a result of the revelations. The CEO seems to have survived the multiple years of deadline snafus, attributing it to the community impact director's "heavy work load," and her having "been asked to do more with less."
Pinning it all on one staff person doesn't seem fair – and it is possibly not the whole story. According to the Pensacola News Journal, the United Way's "board members were not even aware until a few weeks ago that the United Way of Escambia County even handled these emergency food and shelter funds, and they certainly were not aware of the pattern [of missed grant application deadlines] until they were informed earlier this month." Admitting, "We were never aware of those funds," the former board chair added, "I am just surprised that nobody from the agencies that receive this money ever said anything to me about this."
That suggests a passivity among Escambia's nonprofits that results in failing to hold the United Way's feet to the fire. If an agency is to function as a funding intermediary to other nonprofits, its failures reverberate within the community. If the nonprofits fail to push the intermediary to live up to its role, they are letting the United Way off the hook.
And if the United Way's board isn't told information until a couple of weeks ago that the United Way of America told the CEO two years ago – and if the board doesn't even know what programs the agency is delivering – something is more wrong in Escambia County than one staff person's having missed grant application deadlines.—Rick Cohen