United Way in-house programs need vetting

One of the many excellent services the United Way of Central Carolinas has performed is to vet local charities that get United Way money. That assures donors the charities are well run and spend money responsibly. Yet the United Way exempted itself from that vetting process. That's wrong.

Four in-house programs the local United Way runs are now under review. That's needed. The four received a combined $4 million in United Way money last year – a 33 percent increase from the year before. It's possible the services that all four provide are worth that sum, but from what we now know, that isn't likely. One, CommunityWorks, has seven full-time employees and had a 2006-07 budget of almost $1.5 million, yet its mission isn't clear.

Even if CommunityWorks is effective and efficient, though, it should be held to the same standards as the 91 outside agencies receiving United Way money, such as Crisis Assistance Ministry and Cabarrus Meals on Wheels.

The local United Way has already lost the trust of too many residents and donors. News stories in June revealed that then-President Gloria Pace King's pay and retirement compensation the year before was $1.2 million. She was fired in September, but many have questioned the United Way board's operations. Some board members said they never voted on King's compensation.

The new United Way board chairman, Carlos Evans, has said he intends for the agency to be more open than in the past. That's a welcome change. So is his intention to scrutinize the in-house programs.

The United Way of America has pushed local United Ways to launch such in-house programs, saying it wants them exercising leadership in community planning and doing more than fund-raising. But that kind of decision should be made locally, because communities differ. It isn't a strategy to be pushed in a one-size-fits-all way from the national United Way.

Every dollar that goes to in-house programs is a dollar not going to an outside charity helping this region's residents. That's why the thousands of donors who give to United Way must be able to trust that its own programs are held to the same standards as others – especially when the budget line is an eye-popping $4 million.