Originally created 04/23/98

United Way affiliate proposal stirs anger



A proposed change in the status of United Way affiliate agencies prompted angry words at an agency relations meeting at the Family Y's Wheeler Center on Wednesday.

"Why are we messing up a good system? The problem is that you aren't bringing in enough money," said Golden Harvest Food Bank board member Arthur "Sonny" Gay at the meeting attended by about 50 affiliate and member agency heads and board members.

The proposal, already approved by the United Way's board of directors, would call for affiliate members to become member agencies and for the dissolution of the affiliate status in fiscal year 1999.

In Augusta, the United Way is made up of 18 member agencies and 12 affiliate agencies. Member agencies must meet several criteria, such as providing comprehensive financial records and audits to the United Way and ensuring that program and overhead costs are reasonable and effective.

They are also asked to work with other agencies to collaborate on programming to solve problems and to provide programs to meet community needs.

Member agencies such as the American Red Cross, Central Savannah River Girl Scout Council and the Salvation Army get an annual allocation for their programs. A budget panel, composed of volunteers, evaluates programs and assesses community needs then determines how much each agency will get.

The agencies get the benefit of having their contributions collected through payroll deductions and having information about them distributed through the United Way.

The agencies pay a 14 percent administrative fee to the United Way.

Affiliate agencies, including Golden Harvest Food Bank, Catholic Social Services and Fireside Ministries, receive funds through donor designations only.

They are not part of the allocations process, and in the past, they have not been required to pay an administrative fee.

"Every agency, I believe, is worthwhile. Something has to change. The situation as it exists now is harming the member agencies," said Mike Toomey, a member of the Boys Club's board of directors. The Boys Club is a member agency.

Member agencies raised a red flag a few months ago, said agency liaison Gail Fields, who is one of the directors of the Family Y, a member agency.

"The dollars were dwindling, and they wanted to know why," she said. "Designations were drastically increasing."

Officials from member and affiliate agencies have been meeting since January to find a solution.

In 1991, designated contributions totaled $35,276. In the 1996 campaign for which funds were distributed in 1997, that amount rose to $891,946. This year, it is projected to be more than $1 million.

Many people use the United Way as a clearinghouse for their charitable giving. In the 1996 campaign, the second-most designated charity was the Organ Transplant Fund, which is not a member or an affiliate agency. Non-United Way agencies are charged a 10 percent administration fee and an 8 percent uncollectible fee.

If the United Way terminates the affiliate status, people would still be able to designate their dollars to the charity of choice, although the practice would not be encouraged, said Keith Benson, president and chief professional officer of United Way.

Golden Harvest officials said they've never been asked to pay any kind of administrative fee in the past and feel they are being rushed into making a decision about becoming a full member agency.

"What you are saying is that we are hurting the United Way by siphoning money away," Mr. Gay said. "You don't understand our position."

Designations to the food bank in 1996 were about $30,000.

United Way officials hope to discuss the issue further at the Golden Harvest Food Bank's board meeting May 1.

Despite raising more than $3.9 million last fall, slightly less than $2.1 million will actually go to the member agencies.

Every member agency, except the Girl Scouts, which did not request additional money, will get a slight increase in this year's allocations.

Juanita Benjamin, director of Care Management Consultants, an affiliate agency, welcomes the chance to become a member agency.

"I've wanted to be a full member. I see it as an incredible opportunity," she said.

She said she thinks it would give her organization, which provides services for the elderly, the chance to fulfill its mission.

The United Way's board of directors has approved the proposal, but the organization plans to meet with the boards of the affiliate agencies for more discussions.