Monday, September 26, 2011

Is United Way the Best Way to Engage in Charitable Giving?

Today’s Tennessean reports that United Way is seeing an increased need for services and that United Ways is increasing this year’s fundraising campaign to $15 million. That there is a need for increased charitable giving is undeniable. With an official unemployment rate of 8.8% no one can doubt that there are lots of people hurting. Many people who are working are working at jobs that pay much less than what they formerly earned. People are continuing to lose their homes to foreclosure, families are doubling up, and more people are homeless. Many people who thought they would never need them have had to go on food stamps. A lot of people have lost their insurance coverage when they lost their job. People are hurting and there is a greater need for charitable giving than any time in my lifetime.

United Way generally does an admirable job of assessing the needs of the community and allocating resource. With such obvious needs however, I cannot understand why United Way would continue to fund an organization that is primarily political in nature. With so many people in crisis, needing food and basic services, why would United Way continue to fund The Neighborhood Resource Center?

What is the Neighborhood Resource Center? The Neighborhood Resource Center says this about itself: "We offer organizing assistance to help community groups build membership, identify common goals, and develop strategies to move their groups ahead. Most neighborhoods face common issues, so the lessons learned in one community can be quickly put to use in another."

They also say they are, "dedicated to assisting Nashville residents in the formation and development of neighborhood-related organizations. NRC assists residents by providing information, leadership training, consulting, and supportive services, as well as by forming collaborative relationships with, and providing support to, institutions that serve neighborhoods."

In practice, NRC trains citizens in understanding zoning and planning issue and the operation of Metro government and how to put pressure on government agencies and elected officials to meet the needs of communities, as seen by NRC and the various community organizations with which they work. They also provide training in how to run for Metro Council and how to conduct meetings. These are not bad things to do, but they are clearly political activities, not charitable activities. These services can be provided by organizations like the League of Women Voters, and political parties, elected Metro Councilmen, or by an NRC that raises funds as political contributions, instead of competing for charitable contributions.

The Neighborhood Resource Center (NRC) received $228,711 from United Way this year. In the previous year, they received $237,000. This level of funding is much greater than what most United-way organization receive. As long as United Way continues to fund the NRC to the tune of a quarter million dollars a year, I would suggest you withhold your money from United Way and give to a deserving charity directly or use your charitable dollars to directly help a family member or neighbor who is out of work and is about to lose their home or who cannot make their car payment. If you feel you must contribute to United Way, please pick a deserving charity and designate your funding.

As long as United Way funding goes to the NRC, you need to realize that if you give to United Way, a portion of your charitable dollars are funding a political organization and not helping people in crisis.

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