In better years, the Heart of Missouri United Way would not leave its partner agencies short of funds. It would give Columbia charities a yearly amount they could count on, no matter how their own fundraising efforts were going.
“(The United Way) becomes a lifeline for us,” said Valorie Livingston, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbia. “It’s probably our most reliable source of funds.”
But recently, charities in Boone, Cooper and Howard counties haven’t been able to count on receiving as much money from the Heart of Missouri. In 2014, each partner agency received a 10-percent cut in funding, and the chapter had to turn away three emergency requests for funding made by its partner agencies.
The Heart of Missouri, though, can’t give away money it doesn’t have. In 2011, the organization was able to raise $3.5 million. After three consecutive years of decline, it raised only $2.75 million in 2014.
The Heart of Missouri Chapter isn’t alone. For Missouri’s United Ways, 2014 wasn’t an ideal year for fundraising. While chapters across the state are still in the midst of workplace campaigns and processing results, many of the larger chapters have projected year-end totals, and numbers were down at four of the six major chapters.
The largest drop came for the United Way of Greater Kansas City. On Dec. 10, the chapter projected a 2014 total of $35.1 million, which is $2.2 million less than it raised in 2013 and would be the least the chapter has raised since 2005.
The United Way of Greater St. Louis had the best year. On Nov. 11, it projected a 2014 total of $73 million. That’s up $750,000 from 2013 and marks a $980,000 increase over 2012.
Hard for the Heart of Missouri
Though Greater Kansas City had the largest monetary setback from 2013, the Heart of Missouri might be struggling the most. To fund its 2013 and 2014 budgets, the organization dipped into its reserves and made a 16-percent cut internally. Now, there are few reserves left.
These financial woes come as the chapter is trying to do something that executive director Timothy Rich says no other United Way in the country has done.
Of the funding the chapter disbursed this year, 100 percent went to Community Impact and “measurable outcome” work. Community Impact is a United Way Worldwide initiative that encourages United Way chapters to focus on education, income and health to produce long-term change. It encourages focusing on youth and only supporting programs that can measure and prove positive outcomes to their work.
Greater Kansas City implemented a version of Community Impact six years ago. However, Rich says his chapter is the only one giving 100 percent toward education, income and health. In 2014, that meant organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and the Boone County Council on Aging lost their United Way funding.
Alzheimer’s Association Associate Director Joetta Coen said she appreciates what the United Way is doing for children, but she called the decision “a blow.” She said it might be affecting the Heart of Missouri chapter’s fundraising.
“I think many individuals are concerned that United Way doesn’t fully embrace the entire community,” Coen said. “People have said, ‘I’m going to make my own choices now. I used to give X number of dollars to United Way because it was easy.'”
Although they are committed to the new model, Livingston and Rich both acknowledged that Community Impact could be hurting contributions to the Heart of Missouri.
Even though her organization might see cuts as a result of Community Impact, Peggy Kirkpatrick, the retiring executive director of the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, would beg community members not to give up on it.
“All we’ve seen (in the last 33 years) is the safety net getting stretched further and further and further with more people needing help,” Kirkpatrick said. “Community Impact is one of the first things I’ve seen that’s trying to shift or change what we’ve always done. And I applaud it. It’s hard going through it, but I think we’re on the right track.”
Reduced head counts hurt giving
Even if the new model is part of the reason Heart of Missouri is struggling, it can’t explain why United Ways across the state had a tough year.
The United Way of Greater St. Joseph projected a 2014 total of $3.15 million on Dec. 11, compared to the $3.24 million that the chapter raised in 2013. As of Jan. 7, the United Way of the Ozarks unofficially projected that it would reach its goal of $3.2 million, but that goal is about $600,000 less than the amount the chapter raised in 2013.
According to two directors, much of this lost money is the result of shrinking employee bases, which reduce the amount the United Way raises through payroll deduction campaigns. Rich said that the local 3M plant, a longtime Heart of Missouri supporter, is down from about 3,000 employees to about 300.
Much of the loss in funding results not from less being given by individuals, but from fewer individuals giving.
“It seems like 10 to 20 percent of the community’s members are carrying the bulk of the load in trying to give back,” Livingston said.
She believes that Heart of Missouri will return to growth soon, and she is doing all she can to make that happen.
“I often get asked, ‘Should I give to the United Way or should I give to you, to the Boys and Girls Club?’” Livingston said. “I will always say, ‘Give to the United Way, because the United Way is going to take those dollars and spread them across many agencies and level the playing field so that we are not competing with each other to garner the same dollar.’”
Gains for Greater St. Louis
The struggles for Missouri’s United Ways actually go against national trends, according to Giving USA, an organization that has tracked American charities for 59 years.
The latest report shows that American charitable giving has increased 22 percent since the end of the Great Recession and is still on the rise, growing by 4.2 percent last year.
Although this has not been the experience for United Ways in many parts of the state, it has been the case in St. Louis and Jefferson City.
For Greater St. Louis, the increases have been driven by individuals that the United Way calls “leadership givers,” who donate more than $1,000 annually. More and more individuals have been inclined recently to give more than $1,000, and those that have long given four figures have decided to give more.
“We’re really fortunate to have a community that rallies around the United Way campaign every year,” said Yinka Faleti of the United Way of Greater St. Louis.
The United Way of Central Missouri in Jefferson City also saw 2014 gains, albeit modest ones. As of Jan. 7, the organization unofficially projected that it would raise $1.79 million by the end of its 2014 campaign, which would be a $20,000 increase for the year.