UW Sunday Column 9-7-14: Stop donating, start investing

John Kelker
As originally published in the State Journal-Register, Our Towns section

John KelkerUnited Way of Central Illinois kicks off its 2014 campaign with a breakfast this week.

And how would you react if I were to ask you and all prospective donors not to make a donation to United Way this year?

Would you think it was strange and that I was crazy?

After all, why on earth would the president of our local United Way ask the public not to donate?

United Way doesn’t want your donation. We want your investment. I am asking and would encourage you to consider an investment in United Way’s Community Fund…an investment in your community…an investment which you expect us to demonstrate positive, meaningful change in our community.

More than 90 years ago, the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce identified the need to create a community-based organization whose sole purpose was to identify the needs of our community and to bring community leaders, nonprofits and businesses together to address those needs. As a result, United Way’s predecessor, Community Chest was formed.

Over the years, United Way has undergone many changes…from changes in our name to changes in how we support our community. In fact, there was even a period during World War II in which our sole mission was to support the war effort in defense of our nation. Yet, throughout these changes, two things have remained the same: United Way is led by local volunteers, and our sole purpose is to strengthen our community.

Today, we are the organization which brings together local leaders to create solutions for our communities’ needs. Those solutions are built upon a principle in which local needs are best addressed at a local level. This means that 100 percent of your investment stays local and supports local programs.

United Way’s volunteer process is designed to measure each program’s success based upon community needs and positive outcomes for those receiving services. Our volunteers and programs believe in our responsibility to invest your contributions in a manner which is effective, efficient and transparent.

Moreover, United Way of Central Illinois understands we have an obligation to demonstrate how your investment is changing lives and improving our community. We understand that tackling our communities’ greatest challenges begins with our ability to work together.

As the largest private funder of health and human services and the organization responsible for addressing multiple needs in our community, we continue to improve and refine our operations and services. A large part of this refinement is our responsibility to maintain low administrative and fundraising costs.

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University reports that the average administrative and fundraising costs for a charitable organization is 23 percent. I’m proud of our record of maintaining operational expenses far lower than the national average and full transparency in our reporting of expenses.

Yet, we still believe even the lowest expenses are simply too much. This is why we secure additional financial resources to underwrite the administrative and fundraising costs associated with the Community Fund. As a result, 100 percent, every penny, of your investment in the Community Fund goes directly to local programs.

In other words, when you contribute $5 per pay to the Community Fund, $5 per pay is allocated to local programs providing food, shelter, health care, victim services and educational support in our area.

These are the reasons United Way remains the most effective way to support local programs and address local needs. These are the reasons why so many people in our community choose to invest in the Community Fund.

However, I would be remiss if I weren’t to mention the multiple ways in which you can invest in our community. An investment in the community fund is important, but we are equally appreciative of those individuals who choose to improve our community through an investment of time and talent.

Each year, United Way mobilizes hundreds of volunteers to help our local network of nonprofit organizations. Some may volunteer through our Days of Action, our newly introduced Mini Days of Action or through the dozens of volunteer opportunities posted on Get Connected (United Way’s Volunteer Website). In fact, be sure to check out our upcoming Days of Action event this Oct. 10-11.  Regardless of why or even how you volunteer, our community is stronger because of your efforts.

As this year’s campaign kicks off, I want to share our heartfelt thank you for your dedication to our community. If you’ve contributed to the Community Fund or donated to another charitable organization during past campaigns, we are appreciative and would ask for your consideration of a further investment in our Community Fund.

If you’ve never participated in a United Campaign, I would encourage you to give us a call. Our local United Way allows you to both contribute to the Community Fund and/or donate to any IRS-recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Of course, I would personally ask that everyone consider making an investment in our community.

Begin investing and begin being a part of strengthening our community.

John Kelker is the president of United Way of Central Illinois. Learn more about the United Way’s Campaign for the Common Good at springfieldunitedway.org. Look for United Way columns weekly in Our Towns.

Read the column as published in the SJ-R here: http://www.sj-r.com/article/20140906/News/140909629