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United Way of Kershaw County kicks off 2012 campaign, explains fundraising process

Posted: August 23, 2011 11:54 a.m.
Updated: August 24, 2011 5:00 a.m.
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I have a confession to make. When it comes to my own hard-earned dollars, I’m a bit stingy. Now, I believe giving to charity is a great thing. And if someone I know needs a volunteer, I’m one of the first to step to the plate and give my time. However, when it comes time for me to ante up cash, I can come up with a million reasons why I can’t afford it.

It’s really pretty simple. You know the mantra. There are bills to pay. Mouths to feed (kitties and a husband, that is, for me). Rising gas prices. The list goes on.

I was in this frame of mind when I got a phone call from Kershaw County School District Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan in late July. Morgan is serving as the 2012 United Way campaign chair.

"I’ve got an idea for a story," he tells me. "Why don’t you look into exactly how the money donated to the United Way of Kershaw County is spent?"

He proceeded to say that while yes, a very small portion of the donations go to United Way headquarters and administration, the rest of the money stays right here in Kershaw County helping local families and residents in need.

The recent research for this article may have, in fact, changed my tune about how I perceive giving donations.

"I’ve been a lot of places, and I’ve never seen a United Way run as efficiently and without the overhead cost as the one we have here," Morgan said.

The conversation got me thinking, where do the dollars go once given to United Way of Kershaw County (UWKC)? So I picked up the phone and started asking. Here is what I found.

UWKC is made up 18 partner agencies and 13 partnerships and programs (see side bar above).

UWKC is currently operating on a $1.07 million budget. Roughly $532,000 of that was raised during the 2010 campaign. The rest is revenue from grants or special programs and events. The campaign goal this year is $600,000.

One of the biggest questions that came to my mind was "how is the money divided between agencies and programs?"

Ultimately, the UWKC board of directors is responsible for allocating funds. The board is made up of a wide variety of community members from across Kershaw County. Before any decisions are made about the money, the board is divided up into four groups according to "care councils" or by specifically targeted needs within the county. The care council topics include education, health, income, and hunger and homelessness.

While all board of directors are a part of one of the four care councils, these individual committees are made up of both board members, community leaders and United Way staff.

According to Donny Supplee, UWKC director, the care council committees decide how much money their respective agencies should receive in a perfect world.

"It’s not an easy task," Supplee said, adding that those members of the care councils are realistic when it comes to recommending specific dollar amounts.

The board members take these suggested numbers (as well as requests from specific agencies) to the table in December. It’s then that the board looks at the actual dollar amount raised by the UWKC campaign, as well as other grant funding, to discuss and decide how the money should be divided.

"Our board members visit the agencies. They either live or work in Kershaw County and have a vested interest in the community," Supplee said.

The board allocates funds every two years and agencies receive the money on a quarterly basis.

Only 11 percent of the 2010 budget was spent on administration and personnel -- which covers three full-time staff and 14 other grant-funded staff members.

So how does a charity or community organization become a United Way partnership agency? Supplee said there is a written application process.

Even though the initial paperwork of becoming a partnership agency can be lengthy, Supplee said, once an organization has proven to be successful, there is less paperwork involved.

"We want them to spend time on making a difference in the community, not writing reports and asking for money," he said.

The benefits, Supplee said, of being a United Way Partner Agency is that the organization gets a "good housekeeping stamp of approval."

"People feel more comfortable giving money if they know that it is going where it is needed the most," Supplee said. "Plus, the agencies get positive publicity beyond just the financial part of it."

Supplee said UWKC is much more involved than just "raising money and giving it out."

"We’re more than just a fundraising agency," he said "We monitor what’s going on and the community holds us accountable for that."

Knowing the process of how the money is divided wouldn’t be the only deciding factor for me on making a donation -- which is why in the following weeks we will be publishing a series of articles connecting the human element to the dollars.

Because United Way Partner Agencies help a wide variety of people, it would be impossible to include them all in one article. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be introducing you to people in the community who are either making a difference with an agency or being helped by an agency.

I was pleasantly surprised with what I learned. I hope you will be, too.

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