Misunderstanding between United Way and the Community Foundation

How the two organizations worked out how to avoid “stepping on each other’s toes.”

From left: Jordyn Riley, the director of Marketing and Public Relations, Niki Tripodi, the vice president of resource development, Bob Haight, the new President/CEO and Yeralin Martinez, the director of individual donor engagement, talk to each other in a conference room at the United Way of Marion County in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.

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Posted November 8, 2023 | By Caroline Brauchler

Within the mission statements of both the United Way and the Community Foundation, both organizations express the same goal—building a strong community.

In separate but influential campaigns, United Way of Marion County’s Annual Giving Campaign raised $1.4 million and the Community Foundation’s Give4Marion campaign raised $771,075 for area nonprofits in 2022.

United Way plays an instrumental role in relief in case of disaster or emergency, so when the Community Foundation for Ocala/Marion County set up its own community fund in September, some concerns were raised internally about possible competition between the two organizations.

In a letter addressed to Community Foundation Chair Frank Hennessy on Sept. 13, United Way leaders outlined a number of questions they had about the Community Foundation’s unexpected announcement of its community fund.

United Way’s board of directors felt “blindsided” by the announcement, given that their organization’s community fund has been a major player in nonprofit funding, public aid and disaster relief since its founding.

“For the past 70 years, since 1961, Bonnie Heath and others have championed the United Way’s community fund. The United Way’s core purpose includes providing local disaster relief and addressing education, financial stability and health issues,” read the letter.

The organizations held their annual meeting in November of last year. United Way said the Community Foundation outlined four programs but made no mention of its plans to create its own community fund.

Since then, the leaders of both organizations say they have remedied any misunderstandings that arose from the announcement of the new fund.

“We have been working together, between the United Way board and the Community Foundation, in terms of how we jointly help build our community and complement each other, and I believe we’ve made some very good progress in that,” said United Way Chair Jim Henningsen.

Hennessey at the Community Foundation said that after receiving the letter from United Way, he wrote back to respond and the groups have since had “meaningful conversations” to continue fostering a mutually beneficial relationship.

“They made some assumptions and gave us the opportunity to meet with them to address those assumptions and to make sure that they were clear and understanding what our vision and what our mission was,” Hennessey said.

Henningsen said the goal was to make sure “that we’re not stepping on each other’s toes” when it comes to the role and purpose of each organization.

The United Way board also said in the letter that it intended to contact the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management to clarify the organization’s status and ensure that it will continue to serve as the volunteer and donations supervisor in the event of an emergency.

Despite United Way’s concern that the separate fund would change its relationship with the sheriff’s office, MCSO spokesperson Lt. Paul Bloom said nothing is expected to change.

“I don’t think it affects the relationship with (United Way) at all,” Bloom said. “That’s not something that Community Foundation is trying to do. We don’t expect United Way to do anything different and we don’t expect the Foundation to do something different.”

In the case of a disaster or emergency, United Way’s partnership with MCSO places them responsible for “appropriately collecting and distributing funds based on critical needs in the county,” according to United Way’s website.

“With our crisis intervention specialist, we’re going out meeting people in the community that have needs following some kind of a tragedy and a lot of services that are tied in with United Way,” Bloom said.

Bloom also said he knows that a number of employees in the sheriff’s department regularly contribute to United Way’s campaign through donations.

Despite the misunderstanding between the two organizations, Hennessey said the Community Foundation’s role in emergency services is solely monetary.

“We don’t really have a role with the sheriff other than the fact that we have created a fund which can be used in an unrestricted way to address those issues that need to be addressed. So, we’re just another source of money to do good things,” Hennessey said.

This was not the only instance of things being shaken up within United Way this year. In a letter obtained by the “Gazette” written by CEO Robert Haight, United Way issued a notice to all of its funded programs informing them their funding would be reduced for the coming year.

“Although we had a successful community campaign, the net revenue from the campaign decreased with restricted gifts, and one of our largest donors significantly declined in the dollars raised,” read the letter.

Since Sept. 1 and until June 30, 2024, all programs funded by United Way have been reduced by 10%.

“We, like every household has to do, have to balance our revenues and expenses and take in how much you can expend back out. We had a little bit of a shortfall there,” Henningsen said. “We’re trying to figure out how to minimize the impact in the community, so we did tighten our belts more.”

When asked about the “one of our largest donors’’ referenced in the letter who decreased their contribution, Henningsen said it was more of an overall “shortfall” in contributions.

“It wasn’t from any one specific donor. That’s not what precipitated that. We just looked at overall where the revenues come from, and we just had a shortfall that we wanted to balance up,” Henningsen said. “But there’s no donor that came in and said, ‘We’re taking this much money out.’”

The organization hopes to restore funding through its annual giving campaign but said in the letter that it may take two years to generate enough revenue to achieve this.

This year, they’ve set their goal at an all-time high of $1.6 million to bring in funds for 19 partners in education, health and financial stability, said Vice President of Resource Development Niki Tripodi.

United Way partners with local businesses and organizations to give people the opportunity to make donations at whatever capacity best suits them. The campaign, which was kicked off on Sept. 12, spans about six months out of the year, Tripodi said.

“We’ll go into a place of business and will encourage each of the employees there to give whatever is meaningful,” she said. “It could be $1 a week, could be $25 per paycheck, and they sign a pledge form and then their payroll department or HR department will deduct it from their paycheck.”

These efforts, plus individual and corporate gifts, help United Way reach its goal. United Way has about 25 to 30 volunteers who work to make the campaign possible, Tripodi said.

A wide variety of external organizations receive funding, including but not limited to the Boys & Girls Club, Heart of Florida, Marion Senior Services, Interfaith Emergency Services and The Salvation Army.

United Way also runs a number of internal projects that also serve to aid the community’s educational, financial and health-related well-being.

“I’m pretty fond of the ReadingPals program, which is one of our internal programs, which is helping kindergarteners read,” Tripodi said. “Our volunteers go in and they mentor children all school year and give them books and we raise money for that.”

Haight said in the letter that fundraising has become “increasingly challenging” over time as many workplaces that participate have moved their campaigns online, so donors may change their gift and agency beneficiary at any time.

“We’re trying to figure out different avenues that we can utilize to increase the revenues and donations to come in to help out those in need, be it our annual campaign that we do, grants, as well as folks who want to give to United Way,” Henningsen said.

The Community Foundation’s 2023 Give4Marion campaign recently raised 1.4 million for 100 nonprofits.

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