Leaders address donors' concerns

The United Way of Central Carolinas, battling a CEO pay controversy and an economic downturn, is struggling to raise enough money to support more than 90 charities.

Local corporations are facing staff and budget cuts, and some workers are still upset about the $2 million pension package given in 2006 to former United Way CEO Gloria Pace King. Many want to support charities, but don't want their money passing through the United Way.

Charity leaders say the matter is complicated. Here United Way Interim CEO Mac Everett and Board Chairman Carlos Evans answer questions from donors:

Q: I want to give directly to the charity of my choice. What are the pros and cons?

For starters, charity leaders say donors probably won't give as much because they likely won't be using payroll deductions, as most United Way contributors do. And the workplace deduction system gives charities a broader donor base; few firms would organize separate workplace campaigns for more than 90 charities.

Additionally, the United Way spends more time analyzing the community's needs than most individual donors can. It tries to make sure all needs are met, even obscure or unpopular causes. More than 300 volunteers serve on panels that decide how to spend donated money. They hold the charities accountable for results.

“It's a grueling process,” said Jane McIntyre, head of the YWCA Central Carolinas. “It's the most stringent application for money that we as an organization go through.”

Q: If I give to the United Way and decide later that they haven't fixed their problems, can I get my money back?

Yes, in a manner of speaking. Most people give through payroll deductions, so “people could, if they were not happy, just not honor their pledge,” said Evans, the board chairman. “That's not what we want, but that's an option that's always been available.”

Q: Can I donate with the caveat that all of my money will go to the charities and none of it will be used for United Way overhead?

No, said Everett, the interim CEO. The United Way can't raise and allocate the money for free. “The cost is there. There's no getting around it,” he said.

Q: If I give my money, will it go to King's pay package?

The United Way ousted King last month. While the board will pay her up to $676,000 remaining on her three-year employment contract, it opted out of the pension contract and won't pay more than $1 million remaining on it. United Way officials have said the money to pay King won't come out of this year's donations.

Q: What happens if the fundraising campaign falters?

The United Way has already projected the economic downturn has cost the campaign at least $5million in known or anticipated donations. Evans said the United Way plans to cut its in-house costs and draw on its reserves to cushion any blow to affiliated charities.

Q: Is the United Way fixing its problems?

A task force has been appointed to study what went wrong, but it might not report its findings before the United Way's fund drive ends in November. United Way leaders have said they hope to make the 64-member board smaller so it can provide closer oversight.

Evans said regardless of what happens with the task force, he wants to convince the board to make the organization's operations more transparent. He wants open board meetings and meeting minutes made public.

The United Way has taken criticism for not explaining King's pension more thoroughly, but Evans said once the task force's work is complete, he hopes to make public the relevant meeting minutes, compensation studies and the pension contract itself.