City commissioners questioned United Way during a work session Tuesday after the organization outlined where the City’s money is being spent on an annual basis.
Specifically, commissioners wanted to know how United Way makes its decision to fund certain agencies and programs and not others, as several homeless shelters in the area do not receive funding from United Way.
The local United Way chapter has supported various agencies, services and programs in Owensboro for years, with Executive Vice President Doug Eberhart explaining Tuesday that the organization isn’t a place, but an idea that brings people together for the greater good of the community.
Each year, the majority of the City’s budget allocated toward supporting social services goes to United Way, where a board of volunteers decide how to divvy out the funds to the agencies and programs who need the money most. Last year, nearly all of the City’s $425,000 in social services funds went to United Way, but City commissioners have begun requesting a more detailed picture as to where those funds go, and why.
Eberhart said that when an agency accepts money from United Way — after filling out a 23-page application and either being approved or rejected for the funds — they are agreeing to abide by United Way’s guidelines.
“We don’t ask any program to ask us for money,” he said. “It’s their decision to do so. We don’t mandate what they can and can’t do unless they accept the funding.”
Volunteers, meanwhile, base their decision off the details in the applications they receive. The decision to fund an agency is based on several things, including a compliance review, a determination of viability and revenue streams. The volunteers decide how much funding a program is given, whether they’ll be funding a program with additional recommendation, funding a program with additional conditions or whether they will withhold all funding until the conditions are met.
Mayor Pro Tem Larry Maglinger told Eberhart that some agencies need the money to simply operate because they don’t have the resources for specific programs.
Eberhart said that when United Way looks at funding for each agency’s program, they ask themselves, “What are they accomplishing with that program?” He added that agencies can use the funding for operational expenses, as long as that is mentioned directly in their application.
“They can use that money within the parameters of the program they applied for,” he told Maglinger.
Eberhart said that United Way would soon begin tightening the harness on the local programs that receive funding, due to past issues regarding misused funds.
Commissioner Jeff Sanford asked if St. Benedict’s Homeless Shelter could be considered a program, to which Eberhart said it could be, depending on how it was presented in the application.
Commissioner Larry Conder asked how many openings United Way has for new programs that might like to apply for funding.
“The list has not been open for the past several years,” Eberhart said, adding that the problem with funding new programs stems from complaints made by those whose funding gets cut in the process.
If more revenue came in, more openings could be created, said United Way Director David Ross.
“National funding has gone up and gone down, and we haven’t gone down like others have in the nation, but we had the perfect storm in the last 18 months to two years,” Ross said.
According to Ross, United Way lost three corporate sponsorship in that time, which caused the organization to suffer financially. Ross is hopeful that those three businesses will come back to United Way after the next funding cycle.
“Our board saw the funding trend, and they said, ‘We need to rally resources and change what we’re doing because what we’re doing is not working as well as it once did,’” Ross said.
Changes in fundraising and community investment have been in response to funding that’s gone amiss, Ross said.
A soon-to-be statewide partnership with the Kentucky Cabinet for Children and Social Services means United Way could begin seeing a major shift in revenue, Ross said. This partnership between United Way’s new 211 information line and the state should take off within the next year.
“211 will be linked to other social services — people can go to a lot of different places, point and click, and be qualified for the services that are available to them,” he said. “Their eligibility would be approved, and then they’ll be directly placed in those particular programs. It’s going to be a game-changer.”
Ross admitted that the volunteers who oversee the funding and application process make subjective decisions in deciding which programs receive money and the amount — the reason for that being that an objective outline for the process doesn’t exist. Mayor Tom Watson called the subjective decision-making “interesting,” while Director of Community Development Abby Shelton spoke at the podium to defend the process.
“It is subjective, but it’s very fine-tuned to the point they have a system of checks and balances that is much needed in each agency,” she said.