Some nonprofit groups from around the Baton Rouge region are seeing a major source of funding slip away, as the Capital Area United Way implements an overhaul of how the organization doles out the millions of dollars donated to charities annually.
Local United Way leaders say the new way of doing things ensures they are giving money to organizations that have a measurable impact in the 10-parish area around East Baton Rouge Parish. But they acknowledge that it means the heads of some groups that have long received money learned recently they won’t make the cut.
At least two of Capital Area United Way’s longtime partners have come forward to say they are losing tens of thousands of dollars they have depended on for years.
“We’re so appreciative of what they’ve done for us in the past, but we’re just a little disappointed they decided to totally defund us,” said Judy Bethly, the executive director of Volunteers in Public Schools. “Just to cut us off completely was rather a shock.”
The new process to receive funding from Capital Area United Way was much more competitive than in the past. In previous years, Capital Area United Way essentially had a core group of nonprofits — 46 organizations total — that received annual support. Occasionally, a new organization would be added to the list.
This year, any nonprofit was welcome to apply for money, and each of the programs already receiving grants from Capital Area United Way had to reapply.
Capital Area United Way is not releasing a list detailing which organizations are the winners and losers of this new process until their board of directors gives final approval to the changes April 26. The funding period starts in July this year and ends in June 2019.
As the group moves forward with the new donation process, which has been in the works for years, the Capital Area United Way also is in a state of transition. Chief Executive Officer Darrin Goss Sr. left in January for a job in his home state of South Carolina. Since then, Chairman-elect Stevie Toups and board Chairman Ralph Bender have become interim co-CEOs. Bender said they have started a national search for a permanent director and hope to have someone in place by July.
Agency leaders said they were flooded with requests from 74 organizations looking for money for 119 programs. The requests totaled $13 million. Capital Area United Way has $5 million to give.
A volunteer group of more than 75 people went through the applications, evaluating how the proposals fared when applied against the new metrics that Capital Area United Way now requires.
They determined whether groups fit into one of Capital Area United Way’s recently determined focus areas: education, income stability, health or basic needs. Another category is for community-level strategies, like reliable transportation and specific initiatives for particular ZIP codes.
“Since it’s community dollars that are raised, it should be community members making the decisions about how those dollars are spent,” said Katie Pritchett, Capital Area United Way’s vice president for community impact.
To qualify for money, United Way could not be a program’s sole source of income — a change from the past. Any program receiving more than 50 percent of its money from United Way was categorized as needing more diverse funding streams.
The volunteers grouped those who applied for funding as exceeding expectations, meeting expectations or not meeting expectations. Meeting or exceeding expectations also did not guarantee that an organization would receive money.
Geographic diversity also was important, as the Capital Area United Way volunteers tried to make sure they were giving money to services in every part of the region.
The staffers at Capital Area United Way said they also are sad to part ways with some of their longtime partners, as volunteers made the funding decisions and not the staffers. They set aside $500,000 to soften the blow for those that are losing money.
“Just because a partner loses money does not mean they’re a bad agency,” said Sarah Haneline, Capital Area United Way’s vice president for resource development. “That’s so important for the community to know.”
Both Volunteers in Public Schools and the Istrouma Area Council for Boy Scouts of America said they were notified this week that they were losing money.
Darrell Ourso, president of the Istrouma Area Council and a former state representative, said they had grown accustomed to receiving $150,000 from United Way for a Scoutreach program. Scoutreach focuses on poor and high-risk children in Baton Rouge, helping them become Boy Scouts and teaching them life and leadership skills.
The program’s total budget is more than $450,000.
Ourso said he was caught off guard and disappointed by the funding decision. About 665 children are part of the program, and the United Way money in the past has gone toward Boy Scouts registration fees, uniforms, camping costs and more.
United Way is going to give the Scoutreach program a final $75,000 to ease the transition, Ourso said. He said he’ll talk over new avenues for funding with his board members.
“We will do our best to persevere and keep the program whole to the best we can,” he said.
Bethly said Volunteers in Public Schools was receiving $37,000 from United Way for its EveryBody Reads and EveryOne Counts programs, in which volunteers tutor elementary school children in reading and math. The program’s total budget is $60,000, and she said the money goes toward training, buying materials, running background checks and more.
The program serves 500 students, and Bethly said it has a waiting list. She expects the number of students in the program will have to drop it if they cannot find more money. She said they will look at whether their other donors will step up or whether they can try more fundraising.
“We had always gotten such positive feedback from United Way,” Bethly said. “Based on their guidance, we thought we were really meeting their standards and requirements.”