United Way to close its in-house call center

United Way leaders said Tuesday they are eliminating one of the agency's in-house programs, a move they say will save the agency $100,000 a year.

Interim president Mac Everett said the agency will fold its 211 telephone center, which connects callers with area nonprofits, into a similar program run by the state's United Way. Residents will still be able to call the number to learn about local charities.

Charlotte's 211 telephone center is one of four little-known programs paid for and run by United Way of Central Carolinas. The call line, which has six employees, received about $324,000 last year. The Observer has questioned spending on the in-house programs, which have been given millions of dollars over the years but have received little scrutiny. Nonprofit experts have said such programs may be used to lower overhead and boost an agency's claim of efficiency. Money spent on in-house programs is excluded from overhead because it counts as charitable activity.

United Way also will no longer offer leadership classes known as Leading the Way. Everett said he and board chairman Carlos Evans decided to end the classes, which trained about 25 people last year, because there are at least eight other local groups providing a similar service. Leading the Way had one employee, Everett said.

The changes are part of a broader effort by Evans and Everett to overhaul an agency struggling with donor mistrust. Some donors became angry this summer when it was reported that the agency paid former president and CEO Gloria Pace King a $1.2 million in salary and benefits. Since then, King has been fired and a task force created to study how King's pay came about. Evans has also said he plans to examine whether United Way should just raise money or be directly involved in charitable work.

“The question to me is: Are the investments worthwhile for the community?” Evans said.

United Way of North Carolina officials say they expect to integrate Charlotte's 211 call program by Jan. 1, including hiring staff member Marti Morris as full-time head of the statewide system. She has worked part-time for the state system for the past two years, state officials said.

As for the remainder of the staff, two employees may be offered jobs with the county, and three will be laid off.

NC 211 serves 25 United Ways in North Carolina. The merger means that the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County is the lone holdout among independent 211 call centers in the state.

The state system handles about 40,000 calls a year. Charlotte's 211 center received about 24,600 calls last year.