The Enquirer asked the wrong question in its June 27 article, "More woes for United Way: Why is the agency spending more money and raising less?" By focusing on administrative and fundraising expenses, The Enquirer is reinforcing what nonprofit watchdogs like the Better Business Bureau and GuideStar call the "overhead myth" – the false idea that financial ratios are the best indicator of nonprofit performance. What matters most is results.
United Way’s impact on this community reaches 140 agency partners to improve the lives of more than 330,000 people in the critical areas of education, basic needs, financial stability and health. That's 1 in 5 of us. United Way is uniting these partners around a family-centered approach to tackling poverty. Just last year, nearly 200 families moved out of poverty thanks to this new approach.
The changing fundraising trends aren’t about United Way only – it's about the most vulnerable people in our community. The declines in funding over the past few years directly impact tens of thousands of our neighbors who no longer have access to critical services. The cuts mentioned in the article at Bethany House and Big Brothers Big Sisters are just two of many examples of the real-life consequences for people in our community. Families no longer have access to childcare. Youth continue waiting for a mentor. Homeless shelters are at capacity. And on and on.
As many of our agencies have said, "A strong United Way is vital to all of us…It has real-life implications for the overall vitality of our community, regardless of whether you use United Way services or not." As Kathy List of Big Brothers Big Sisters said in the article, "We all count on each other."
The fact is, we run an extremely efficient operation. We invest nearly 85% of the funds we raise back into the community. Charity Navigator scores us 100% for accountability and transparency, and our administrative expense is half the local average of the other 56 largest charities in the region, according to Charity Navigator. Also, as we stated publicly last year, we took the same 20% cut to our operating budget that our agencies took.
Any business with declining revenue knows it cannot cut sales and marketing to grow. Nonprofits are no different. So, we are unapologetic about focusing even more resources on fundraising and innovation. What’s more, our other "administrative" expenses are the talented people working every day to tackle the most difficult problems facing our community.
No question that the fundraising environment is changing rapidly. We are moving aggressively to strengthen our fundraising model with innovation, just as we have done many times throughout our 100-plus year history. We are building from a position of strength – Greater Cincinnati remains the sixth biggest United Way campaign and third largest in per capita giving in the country. Even though we may have taken this success for granted in the past, we are acting with urgency to build the fundraising model of the future.
Our new model harnesses technology to revolutionize workplace giving by empowering and engaging donors. We are also developing new strategies to engage people in our cause year-round outside of the traditional campaign. This represents a fundamentally new business model – not a quick fix – and it will take time to take hold. But with our new board leadership in place, our CEO search fully underway guided by a diverse coalition of community leaders to be completed this fall, we are well-positioned for the future.
Because of the real-life consequences of funding decline and the real challenges facing families in poverty, we are squarely focused on doing everything we can to raise every dollar possible for today, while building a stronger United Way for tomorrow.
When United Way succeeds, our community succeeds. We invite The Enquirer to join us.
Steve Shifman is president and CEO of Michelman and board chair of United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Barbara Turner is president and COO of Ohio National Financial Services and is the board chair-elect of United Way of Greater Cincinnati. Ross Meyer is the interim CEO of United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
Featured on Cincinnati.com 07/02/19