Charlotte's United Way marked the traditional end of its annual campaign Thursday, not with the usual rally, but with a one-page news release noting it has raised $25.4 million – $20 million shy of last year's record $45 million.
The shortfall comes at a time other large Charlotte nonprofits are seeing campaign shortages of their own, resulting in cuts in staff and services.
United Way has cited the economy as a chief reason for its shortfall, along with lingering public anger over a controversial $1.2 million pay package given last year to former CEO Gloria Pace King.
As a result, United Way did not set a specific goal for this year's campaign.
A recent Observer survey of about 10 other metropolitan United Ways may have cast some light on the impact of the King controversy. None of those other agencies are experiencing anywhere near the campaign problems of Charlotte.
United Way of Central Carolinas will extend its fund raising efforts through the end of the year, in hopes of raising at least $5 million more. A final total for the campaign may not be announced until the first quarter of next year, says interim CEO Mac Everett, noting in-house campaigns at 40 to 50 local companies have yet to start.
Charlotte's chapter of the Salvation Army is among the local nonprofits reporting problems in their own fund drives. The agency began the fiscal year with a $750,000 deficit, attributed to a drop in donations. It has cut seven staff jobs, trimmed hours of part-time employees, and will disband the Boys and Girls Club in the Tarlton Hills community. It also cut off registration for its Christmas-assistance program six days early, after seeing a 9 percent jump in the number of people applying to participate.
“We cut it off at 11,100 children because that's all we could handle,” says Jim Price, the agency's development director. “These are challenging times. We are seeing needs this year greater than most of us can remember. But with the crashing economy, we're also seeing fewer donors who have the ability to help those who are less fortunate.”
The charity depends on the United Way for 18 percent of its money, he said, so matters are expected to be even worse in the next fiscal year.
Charlotte's American Red Cross, another United Way agency, reports shortages of its own. It laid off five employees, after ending the last fiscal year with a $350,000 shortfall. It's two biggest fundraising months are November and December, raising fears that it will fall far short of what it needs, says CEO Pam Jefsen. It gets 23 percent of its budget from United Way.
“We could have more cutbacks if there is a big shortfall these two months,” she says. “We've scraped out every part of our budget we could scrape.”
Among the local charities doing better is the YMCA, which is on target to hit its $4 million campaign goal. Dean Jones, the nonprofit's senior vice president for financial development, says the Y is seeing fewer donors in the $50 range. But larger donations have so far made up for the shortage, he says.
The YMCA receives about $1 million from the United Way to serve the city's fragile neighborhoods. Jones estimates that will drop by at least a third in the next fiscal year.
“Honestly, I can't figure out why we're doing so well this year,” says Jones. “We're really doing a lot of loving on our donors, to let them know they're appreciated.”