WENATCHEE — Confluence Health and the Chelan County PUD are dropping the United Way of North Central Washington from their charitable giving payroll deduction programs.
Announcements issued Friday by two of the region’s largest employers cited concerns about United Way’s financial and operational upheaval of the past two years, which reduced the number of local charities receiving money from the pass-through organization.
In July, United Way CEO Charity Bergman said four of its traditional 12 partner agencies would receive grants this year. The amount distributed would total $62,000, a drop from the $225,000 provided last year.
The reason for the change, she said, was a new focus on providing basic needs — food, drink, shelter and clothing — while the agency refocused and rebuilt its coffers.
The agency’s tax records reflected a drop in community contributions in the past two years. The plan in the works for this fall was to beef up community outreach efforts and reverse the trend.
Courtney Ward, who has been serving as United Way board chair since July, said Friday that is still the plan, describing the decisions by the PUD and Confluence as unfortunate.
“We are shifting to a new model and we didn’t have a chance to regroup with either one,” she said. “Confluence is a major contributor. The impact is not minimal. But we are moving in a direction to diversify our portfolio in that regard. We are sustainable for the interim while we solidify other donors.”
The board at Confluence Health decided it could not wait any longer for things to improve.
“After concerns regarding accountability and transparency in its operations were reported two years ago, the United Way of NCW made public commitments to better manage the resources they were entrusted,” said Andrew Canning, Confluence Health’s marketing and communications director. “Unfortunately, we have not seen actions matching the promises our communities were given. Due to those concerns involving operations at the United Way of NCW, Confluence Health will no longer provide employee donation matching funds to United Way of NCW.”
Confluence also will discontinue its payroll deduction program to the United Way of NCW as of Jan. 1, he said.
Instead, Confluence and Wenatchee Valley Medical Group will provide $100,000 to help the nonprofits that did not receive United Way grants this year. The Community Foundation of NCW and the Wenatchee Downtown Rotary committed to another $62,000.
“Together this will cover the $162,000 gap of funding that was promised to affected organizations and never covered,” Canning said. “The amount will be provided as a lump sum to each agency.”
Beth Stipes, CEO of the Community Foundation of NCW, said finding a way to help fill the gaps for the agencies that did not receive funding is part of her organization’s job.
“The Community Foundation constantly seeks collaborations that support philanthropy in the region to benefit local charities. This was a mutual decision between multiple parties,” she said. “These agencies have depended on this funding, and they need time to prepare and plan for this new reality. These funds are crucial to these agencies who are working with our most vulnerable populations, and that affects all of us. We feel it’s the right thing to do to help the kids and families who are struggling in our communities,” she said.
Moving forward, Canning said Confluence will continue to provide payroll deductions, which are matched by the organization, for the Community Foundation of NCW, where employees can direct contributions to a specific nonprofit of their choice. The payroll deductions also will continue to be provided to United Way of Grant County and the CH Foundation (for Confluence employees in need).
Chelan County PUD CEO Steve Wright outlined similar concerns in the decision to suspend United Way from the employee deduction programs.
“We have been tracking reports over the last two years regarding operations at United Way of NCW. We met with their leadership last year and they committed to significant change. Unfortunately, we have not seen actions that match the promises we heard. This is disturbing as the organizations that United Way of NCW has historically supported have been negatively impacted and, in turn, the many people served by these local nonprofits,” he said. “At this time, we do not believe United Way of NCW’s operations reflect the values of our organization. After substantial discussion and due diligence, we have decided to not include United Way of NCW in our payroll deduction program this year.”
PUD employees provided $14,275 to United Way this year through the payroll deduction program. Next year, they will continue to have the option of making payroll contributions to the Community Foundation of NCW, which was added as an option last year.
“The Community Foundation of NCW has committed to allowing employees to designate a specific agency or agencies for support,” Wright said. Those agencies include all that were previously supported by the United Way.
Employees also have the option of contributing directly to United Way.