The prospect of a gap in a critical funding source for community needs has become a painful reality. Only $25.4 million has been raised by the 2008 United Way campaign. Even if eleventh-hour generosity whittles down the deficit slightly, United Way of the Central Carolinas will face a budget far below the record $45 million raised last year.
That's a blow for the people who need help in this community. The miserable economy has increased the demand for assistance. Yet self-inflicted wounds have left a key resource ill-equipped to step up to that need.
Nothing at this stage is likely to change that outcome. Yet there are steps United Way can and should take now to help it rebuild by next year.
The United Way Board of Directors dug the agency a hole this year through poor decisions, secrecy and casual financial oversight. It fired the agency's CEO after public outcry over a secret decision to pay her some $1.2 million in salary, including a one-time contribution to her retirement fund. That amount is out of line with other comparable agencies. It's too lavish for an agency that raises its money from thousands of donors who pay small amounts weekly from paychecks.
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Other problems have surfaced as well. Four in-house programs the local United Way runs – a questionable practice pushed by the national United Way agency – are under review. The four received an eye-popping 33 percent increase in funds this year from the year before – far more than most of the outside agencies got. There are also questions about whether the in-house programs are within the United Way's core mission.
That record has shaken the public's confidence. Nothing will change this year's campaign. That's even more reason for the board to act now to repair the damage. These steps would be a good start:
Explain publicly how, when, why and by whom the CEO's compensation package was devised. The board has not put the facts out in the open.
Seek a new CEO that will prioritize openness, transparency and accountability and organize the agency in a way that reflects those principles.
Operate with increased independence from the national United Way agency, which has pushed measures that do not reflect local values.