WENATCHEE — United Way of North Central Washington is losing at least one of its community partners following a second year of funding uncertainty.
The Wenatchee Valley YMCA Board of Directors sent a letter to the United Way July 10 ending its association “effective immediately.” The move means the United Way can no longer use the YMCA’s name in fundraising campaign efforts.
United Way announced to its partner agencies June 28 that it will provide funding this year only to programs designed to feed the hungry, leaving a host of its other long-time partners with unexpected budget gaps.
That includes those focused on everything from housing and education to child advocacy.
YMCA CEO Dorry Foster and Women’s Resource Center Executive Director Laurel Turner said it is their understanding from that meeting that United Way didn’t have enough money to fund all the agencies and had to prioritize for the most basic needs.
“We concur with your decision to focus on reducing hunger and food disparities. We understand that the YMCA no longer fits as a partner agency,” Foster states in the letter to the United Way. “With respect to our history and the United Way’s current focus, the Wenatchee Valley YMCA Board of Directors has decided to end its association to the United Way of North Central Washington, effective immediately.”
Women’s Resource Center board members are considering similar action this week, Turner said.
United Way CEO Charity Bergman said the decision not to fund all of the agency requests is strategic.
“It is not based on a reduction in community donations,” she said. “It is based on being a steward of, and more efficient with, community donations. We are prioritizing agency needs ... and while we transition the model, we will prioritize supporting organizations who provide basic needs, starting with food.”
Bergman was out of town Monday, but provided the brief statement via email. She did not provide the financial details requested, including community donations and distribution figures, but said they would be available later in the week.
The issue is not that the money available is being used to reduce hunger and food disparities, said the YMCA’s Foster.
“We applaud the decision to feed the hungry,” she said, though it is her understanding that campaign donations were reduced. “They needed to fund the biggest needs and picked the best way to get there.”
Foster said the timing of the announcements and lack of information is a concern.
The funding decision was delivered on the last business day of the United Way’s new fiscal year, without a heads up to agencies that have long relied on the grants to balance their budgets.
“The timing was not great,” Foster said. “There could have been some pre-emptive conversations.”
Last year, disbursements were delayed three months while United Way executives “retooled” accounting practices to get a clear picture of how much money was available. The Community Foundation of NCW stepped forward to cover the three-month funding gap for United Way agencies. The partner agencies eventually received about the same amount they had received the year before.
Turner with the Women’s Resource Center said she thought the United Way’s financial problems of last year had been resolved, so was caught off guard this year.
“I thought the coast was clear,” she said. “When you receive money every year, you start to weave it into the budget.”
The Women’s Resource Center has historically earmarked United Way funds for the Bruce Hotel, a transitional housing program. In the past it had received up to $45,000 a year from United Way.
Funding uncertainty is nothing new to nonprofit work, she said.
“But not to this degree,” she said.
Foster agrees. Her plan moving forward is to look elsewhere.
The YMCA has used United Way funds to cover youth scholarships in six programs. Historically, it had received about $35,000 a year.
“I called a meeting of some of the other agencies to see what we can do together,” she said. “I feel as strong ‘prevention’ agencies, we can collectively strengthen our ties to advance our funding, separate from United Way. We’re exploring what that may look like for us.”
Bergman said last year that the organization was shifting its fundraising campaign strategy that for years had focused on a big push in the fall to a year-round model.
The organization also changed the start of its fiscal year from April 1 to July 1, added Okanogan County to its coverage area and changed its name from United Way of Chelan and Douglas Counties to United Way of North Central Washington.