United Way: No goal on fund drive this year

In a two-pronged effort to rebuild community trust, United Way of Central Carolinas announced Wednesday that it will not set a monetary goal for its pending campaign and that its board chairman has resigned.

The agency, rocked by controversy surrounding the $1.2 million in salary and benefits paid to former CEO Gloria Pace King, said it decided to skip a goal this year because of “the current economic conditions and environment.” The campaign begins Friday.

King was relieved of her duties last week by the agency's board of directors, which said the furor over her pay had undermined public trust. It named civic activist and retired banker Mac Everett as her temporary replacement.

Board chairman Graham Denton also cited damaged trust in announcing his resignation. His departure means the agency has shed itself of the two leaders most closely associated with the controversy.

An Observer analysis showed that King's pay was the highest among 31 United Ways surveyed across the country. Denton was on the executive committee that approved the package in 2006.

His replacement, Wachovia Executive Vice President Carlos Evans, was not.

“I have become increasingly aware that many of you have lost trust and confidence in me as your Board Chair,” Denton said in an open letter to his colleagues. “Some have even expressed a sense of betrayal by your board leadership. My hope is that this decision, taken along with the other board actions approved last week, will represent the beginning of a new era for your United Way.”

The agency's leadership has come under increased scrutiny since June, when news broke of King's salary and benefits. The board has declined to release information about how it set King's pay, as well as minutes from meetings when the issue was discussed.

Evans, who was to become board chairman in 2009, has said he favors more openness in board affairs, including making meetings and board minutes public.

Anger over the board's use of donor money and its handling of the crisis has mounted in recent weeks, creating fear that this year's campaign could become a target of public outrage. Last year, the drive raised a record $45.3 million.

In accepting the chairmanship, Evans said he hopes to help stabilize the United Way and push forward with the campaign. It supports 91 Charlotte area charities, some depending on United Way for as much as 30 percent of their operating money.

“I am committed to doing my part to restore the public's confidence and trust in the United Way, at a time when the need is as great as I have ever seen,” Evans said in a statement.

Jane McIntyre, who chairs an executive council of agencies served by United Way, said Denton's departure could move the agency forward.

“I think that Graham's resignation is part of the effort to right the ship and rebuild the trust that everyone knows is very important in the success of the United Way and the campaign,” she said.

Experts say the agency's decision to not set a specific campaign goal could also be a positive step. It was tried in Charlotte once before, in 1994, following three consecutive years of troubled campaigns.

“We tell all our clients to focus on the mission, not the money,” said Jim Yunker, chair of the editorial review board of Giving USA, which researches philanthropy.

“We live in a country that is so competitive, but it's not about winning the championship. The goal should be to tell the stories of the good that will be done.

“I think the United Way might end up raising more than they would have otherwise.”

Staff writer Kerry Hall contributed.