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Commentary: Making Unrestricted Gifts to United Way

By Arlene Kaukus

Buffalo, NY – As we recently wrapped up our successful United Way Community Campaign, two things were very obvious to me: that this community is very generous and that an on-going discussion about where donor's charitable gifts will do the most good must be continued and expanded. During the past two United Way campaigns, we have shifted our focus to educate donors about the benefits to giving undesignated gifts to the United Way Community Care Fund.

It's important to remember that there are two sides to donor choice, and that the operative word here is CHOICE. Our strategy these past two years has been to increase our education of donors on why a gift to the United Way Community Care Fund is the best choice.

To me, charitable giving comes down to a few basic things - trust, accountability and results. The United Way delivers on them all. Can you get trust, accountability and results by giving to specific individual charities? Of course you can, but it requires a fair amount of work on the part of the donor.

As a donor, we believe it is important to know the complete funding sources a charity receives, knowledge of its leadership and regular data about the results of the services the charity is providing. The United Way has all this information and the knowledge and local experience to act as a resource for donors. It's what we have done very successfully for decades.

The value of giving through the United Way Community Care Fund is in the scope of programs and services funded - from the big, high profile agencies to the small, unknown ones. If we all wrote checks to individual agencies that we were personally affected by or had merely heard of, we might overlook some of the most needed programs, many of whom do not have the marketing dollars to be top-of-mind.

One gift to the United Way Community Care Fund supports all the greatest local needs - big and small, known and unknown in all areas including families, basic needs, youth services and seniors. But the most important point is that the Community Care Fund is about building a community; about funding a broad scope of quality services that deliver a high quality of life for all, that in essence is the mission of United Way.

And how are Community Care Fund dollars entrusted to United Way invested? All investments in local programs are made by the community, for the community in an outcome-based program. A thorough year-round approach begins as scores of United Way investment volunteers from all areas of our community define investor targets in each area of need.

Local agencies submit proposals for funding describing the results they will achieve with United Way dollars. Volunteers review these funding applications to determine which programs are not only the most critical, but also the most effective. Community Care Fund gifts are then put to work where they are needed most, helping to provide safe havens for people escaping domestic violence; hot meals; independence for seniors; after-school mentors; job training; or reassuring counselors on the other end of the phone.

Throughout the year, United Way staff & volunteers track all Community Care Fund investments, ensuring results are being achieved. United Way visits each funded program and works collaboratively with agencies to further success. Programs that don't get results do not get funded.

So before you discount the United Way as an antiquated system stuck in the past, look at the results: over 90 percent of every dollar goes into the most needed local programs, and trained volunteers from our community review, evaluate and track all Community Care Fund investments. That's just good business. Results never go out of style.

We all have the right to give to individual charities. That's not the issue. The issue is trust, accountability and results. United Way remains committed to earning the trust of this community. We will continue to provide our valued donors with the accountability they want and deserve with their charitable giving and tangible results they can feel good about.

Guest Commentator Arlene Kaukus is president of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County.