United Way changing approach for donations - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

United Way changing approach for donations

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The United Way of Central Ohio is part of a national trend in which the organization is encouraging its donors to help tackle specific social problems, instead of primarily acting as a conduit for funding for other social service organizations.

The United Way increasingly wants its donors to check a box on pledge cards entitled "Community Impact Fund," instead of choosing to earmark their donations for specific organizations. The money will go toward goals such as reducing the high-school dropout rate and making neighborhoods safer.

About 85 percent of United Way's 1,300 U.S. affiliates have either completed the change in focus or are in the process of doing so. The organization isn't taking away the option of designating money for specific agencies.

"We made it possible for everyone to be a philanthropist and for people nationwide to receive assistance," said United Way Worldwide spokeswoman Sally Fabens. "However, we realized along the way that community conditions were not necessarily improving overall. It's just not working anymore to fund programs and agencies that can make incremental change if people's lives are not improving."

The United Way of Central Ohio approved its first grants under the new system last week. It provided $20.8 million for 166 programs at 78 agencies. Three specific housing and student mentoring initiatives were given $650,000. But some nonprofit groups that have relied on the United Way to raise money for them aren't happy about the organization getting more involved in where money needs to be spent.

"The changes at the United Way are big, and I think some donors possibly are not happy," said Melissa Magers, executive director at Community Shares of Mid Ohio. "We trust our donors to know where they want their money to go."

However, United Way's change in focus has opened up more agencies to receiving funding. Twenty new agencies are receiving funding this year.

Lori Criss, chief operating officer for Amethyst, an organization that provides substance abuse treatment and housing for women and their children, said the new policy will help because it provides guidance and accountability. It's getting funding from United Way for the first time.

 "Sure, I could invest my retirement funds in stocks myself, but I don't know what I'm doing," Criss said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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