Here's a start on restoring confidence in United Way

United Way of Central Carolinas is, as one longtime supporter put it, in a pickle. It got that way by forgetting this simple fact: A nonprofit organization that raises every cent of its money from voluntary public contributions must have no higher priority than retaining the public's trust.

First, let's look at how United Way wound up in the brine. Then we'll offer a couple of suggestions about how to avoid another salty soaking in the future.

The current crisis of confidence arose when the public learned that not only was United Way paying CEO Gloria Pace King one of the highest salaries of anyone in a similar position in the country, but last year the board's compensation package for her totaled $1.2 million. It included an $822,000 payment into a pension plan that would pay her more than $200,000 a year in retirement – 60 percent of her pay.

Where does United Way's money come from? From thousands of generous area residents who respond to the annual appeal to help 91 agencies that provide valuable services to the community.

When news of the CEO's hefty compensation package became public, many United Way supporters were shocked. They weren't alone. Most of the 60 or so members of the United Way board didn't know about it either. Some significant work of the board is done in small committees. Board members voted on the annual budget, but few of them were aware of the CEO's compensation and retirement plan. Members who checked board minutes for recent years say they found no mention of it.

The board has appointed attorney Robert Sink to head a committee to look into the way United Way does business and recommend reforms. Here are two we think are essential:

1. Remember that every dime United Way raises comes from voluntary donors. Detailed records of where that money goes should be available to any donor.

2. A 60-member board is not a working board, it's a convention. Either make the board smaller, or make sure information about all the actions taken in committees is given to all the board.