Two sides to United Way story

I’ve been trying to get my head around the United Way Capital Area story. The gist is that the local United Way will change the way it supports local nonprofit agencies in 2008. Accoring to Andrea Ball, the new focus will be “less on basic needs and more on education, financial stability and health programs,” which means that as many as 21 local charities will no longer be able to rely on UWCA for funding. United Way will also require that the grants “must be used for programs, not administrative costs or operating expenses.” So who’s going to pay for all that work to be done?

I’ve found two opinion pieces that outline the basic arguments from both sides, and I invite you to check them out. The first is an opinion piece by the Statesman’s editor, Rich Oppel, “United Way’s new strategy carries a risk in a new culture.” The second is a response to that by the United Way itself, on their blog, “More on United Way Capital Area’s new funding.”

From what I understand, the UWCA approach makes sense: To support those programs that attack our community’s problems of poverty and illness at the root. But this means not supporting those programs that directly affect poverty and illness. A couple of long-standing ideas are at play here.

The first is that we have to change the way we think about charity and philanthropy. That it can’t just be about catching people as they fall, but rather addressing the core problems people face before they fall. The second long-standing idea – of really, fact of life – is that the UWCA simply does not have enough funding to support agencies that attack both ends – before the fall and after. And therefore, it’s time for the rest of the community to pitch in. But this at a time when Austin was recognized as ranking 48th out of the 50 largest U.S. cities for charitable, local giving….

How’s this going to play out? I think everyone believes it’s a worthwhile experiment – this  idea of funding to those agencies that address societal problems at the source idea – but it’s hard medicine to take when it means less for other agencies.


One Response

  1. very balanced piece. Nice work in conveying the essence of their funding change. Makes a pleasant change to the focus on cuts crowd who are missing the bigger picture. It can be a bitter pill to swallow short term, but long term will pay dividends.

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