As we wrap up this year’s United Way campaign and begin planning for the next, I’d like to add my heartfelt thanks to those traditional and new donors who helped us surpass this year’s ambitious campaign target. As I reviewed the original listing of 53 United Ways in Canada who were aiming to raise over $1 Million dollars in 2012, I was struck by the reality that here in Chatham-Kent – in the midst of a very tough economy – our United Way was targeting the second highest percentage increase – 7.19% – in the nation. Yesterday – with a campaign achievement of $2,045,843 – we, in fact, celebrated a nine percent increase!

So, now what do we do with the funds raised in this year’s United Way campaign?

This month, 16 local volunteers participated in a Saturday morning training session hosted by United Way. This session was held to provide orientation to the United Way’s annual Citizen Review Process and to highlight the importance of ongoing, stable funding for our “family” of agencies. In addition, over 100 registered Canadian charitable organizations and qualified donees will also receive designated dollars through United Way’s Donor Choice Program. Within the month, the United Way Board of Directors will know the amount available for distribution to the United Way Community Fund and approve recommendations by the Community Investment Committee which oversees the Citizen Review Process.

As we enter this traditional process, I am reminded of the importance of core funding to those in the voluntary sector who must rely on ongoing funding to sustain their operations. A stable, ongoing base of financial support is critical to these organizations who cannot survive on special project funding or one-time grants. Core funding is what distinguishes United Way from many other local funders of social services. Annual allocations are provided to ensure that agency staff and/or volunteers are able to continue their valuable work, eliminating the need to “shop” for alternative sources of financial aid.

In order to be eligible for funding from the United Way Community Fund, organizations must be registered Canadian charitable organizations with the capacity to achieve proposed results and be located within the community of Chatham-Kent. They must be willing to provide periodic progress reports and evaluation results and adhere to United Way’s Funding Agreement which outlines the role of each partner to the agreement. Volunteers participating in the Community Investment Process utilize a checklist which is used to evaluate the recipient agency’s performance against a series of 21 criteria. These criteria include a demonstration of community need, program and service effectiveness, efficient resource utilization, community support, management, need for United Way support, compliance with United Way obligations – as outlined in the Member Agency Agreement – and accessibility.

With a current annual United Way allocation of $127,000 – representing approximately 8% of its total budget – Family Service Kent is just one of the United Way funded agencies which relies on United Way for core funding. “While the majority of funding for our agency comes from provincial and municipal grants and user fees,” says Family Service Kent Director Brad Davis, “we utilize United Way dollars to ensure that our individual, family and credit counseling services are provided to those who cannot cover the full cost. In this tough economy, there are many individuals, couples and families with modest to low incomes who desperately need help to cope with life’s challenges but can’t afford to pay. United Way ensures that we don’t have to turn anyone away.” Over the past year, the agency has seen a steady increase in demand for counseling services and they expect this trend to continue.

The Learning Disabilities Association is another agency where core funding is vital. With a current allocation of $93,323 – representing approximately 76% of their total budget – this agency relies on United Way to fund its Tutoring and Social Skills Programs. Statistics reveal that learning disabilities can affect the way in which a person receives, remembers, organizes, understands and expresses information. Living with LD can have an ongoing impact on friendships, school, work, self-esteem and daily life. It is a life-long disability, ranging from moderate to severe and it cannot be cured. Ten percent of the population is affected by learning disabilities and only 3% of school-age children with LD receive special services within their schools. Many students with LD – which can coexist with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – remain unidentified. After years of struggling and failing to perform in school, at home and in the community, feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem often arise. Being labeled “lazy” or “stupid” time after time, some people with ADHD may act out these feelings, become aggressive, get into fights or impulsively strike out. Others may internalize their feelings, becoming depressed and withdrawn. Still others may channel their feelings into their bodies, developing headaches or other physical symptoms. Some believe that they are less worthy, and come to expect failure. “Core funding from United Way ensures that individuals with LD and/or or ADHD receive specialized interventions in home, school, community and workplace settings appropriate for their individual strengths and needs, “says Dawn Babkirk of the Learning Disabilities Association, “where – through the dedicated efforts of hundreds of community volunteers – we break the cycle of failure, and inspire confidence and self-esteem.”

Without core funding, local social service organizations are challenged to continue vital programs. Without core funding, these organizations must compete against others for ongoing funding and sometimes are forced to take precious time and talent away from the provision of service to organize special events which are often time-consuming and do not generate the amounts needed for sustainability. And this is particularly challenging in times of fiscal restraint.

Internally at United Way, we know this only too well by the increase in requests for financial support for vulnerable women and children through the United Way Women’s Leadership Council (more on this exciting initiative in a future article!) and increases in requests for the Operation Cover-Up and BackPacks for Kids Program.

Please stay tuned for future articles on the programs and services funded by your local United Way – and the lives changed through your gifts!