The United Way of Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties is in serious financial distress.

Recently, Executive Director Charity Bergman met with partner organizations of the United Way and informed them the agency will only fund food-related programs for the foreseeable future. From all appearances, United Way will fund only three out of the 13 organizations it was supporting.

This should be deeply concerning to United Way donors and those who care about the health of nonprofits in our region. We need to find other ways to support nonprofits who are left out in the cold.

The 10 United Way partners that won’t get funding include Camp Fire, Chelan-Douglas CASA, Children’s Home Society, Lilac Services for the Blind, Together for Youth, Upper Valley Connection, Wenatchee Dispute Resolution Center, Wenatchee Family Counseling, YMCA, and the Women’s Resource Center.

It’s hard to imagine that these organizations will continue to be United Way partners if they’re not receiving funds.

The decision by United Way’s executive and board to pare down grants to support food programs is a logical move. It’s better to make a meaningful difference for a few agencies and programs than make miniscule contributions to a wide spectrum of organizations when funds are tight.

The last two years have seen the United Way in shambles. The organization, following the departure of previous Executive Director Alan Walker, has struggled to determine how much money was available to distribute.

To date, there has been no public communication from the United Way regarding what caused the financial downfall, how much money United Way has, what will happen with donations made by individuals to specific organizations, and whether there is a plan for re-energizing the organization.

I reached out to the United Way executive by email last week to get a sense of what’s happening with the agency but as of this writing did not receive a response. I’m told by agency executive directors that communication between the agency and the nonprofits has been virtually nonexistent. They’ve not engaged with donors, including key funders who belonged to the Apple Capital Club.

This lack of proactive communication is deeply troubling. When the chips are down, that’s when an organization needs community support and you only get that by being up front and transparent. Going silent is a bad idea.

For me, this is a sad state of affairs because for years I was staunch United Way supporter. When I was publisher, the company matched employee gifts to United Way. I participated in the Apple Capital Club and was twice chaired the annual campaign.

For donors, United Way’s radically diminished mission may impact how much they choose to give, or they may seek other alternatives to support social service agencies in the region.

Supporting prevention is critical to our valley’s success and United Way will no longer be doing that.

The good news is that executives from the former partner agencies have been meeting to map out a strategy. According to Dorry Foster, the executive director of the YMCA, they are talking about ways to collaborate and provide greater benefit by reducing duplication of programs. They are seeking grants to fill the financial gap.

United Way served this region well for many, many years and did some valuable work. If it’s going to serve the community going forward, it will need new thinking, transparency and the support of the community. They’re going to have to earn that support. United Way’s credibility is virtually nonexistent at this point.

It may well be that United Way has run its course and that we will need to find a more effective way to support nonprofits that do such critical work in helping those in need in our region.

Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. Contact him at 665-1162 or rwoods@wenatcheeworld.com.

Rufus Woods