Column: United Way’s changes hit home at charities

By Maria Saporta
Friday, July 22, 2011

The United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc.’s revamping of the way it distributes dollars to charities hit home July 20.

That’s when agencies found out how much money they would be receiving this year from United Way based on its new allocation process. Unlike past years, every agency had to apply for grants, and those grants were made on how well those dollars would help fulfill United Way’s community goals.

At its meeting July 19, United Way’s board approved the allocation decisions while it also re-emphasized its commitment to make grants for programs where they will have the greatest impact toward their community goals.

Those six goals are: babies are born healthy; children enter schools ready to learn and graduate prepared for careers; young people avoid risky behaviors; families are self-sufficient; people have access to primary health care; and homeless people are housed within one year.

But the new process was made even more painful this year because United Way had even fewer dollars to distribute as part of its community investment program than it did last year. As a result, 48 agencies that had received grants in 2010 received no United Way dollars this year.

For Milton Little, president of Atlanta’s United Way, it was an unfortunate confluence of events. “At the end of the day, we had less money,” Little said. “Even the highest-scoring agencies ended up competing for a pool of dollars that was smaller than it was last year.”

Even though the United Way did make its $80.2 million 2010 campaign goal, the pot of money that the organization could invest in community programs was smaller for two reasons, Little said.

First, more donors are designating their gifts to particular agencies, which means United Way does not have the flexibility of where it can invest those dollars.

Second, United Way has had an increase in the amount of uncollected pledges and gifts made during the campaign. For the 2010 campaign, it is estimating that about $11 million that had been pledged would not be collected.

“Because we didn’t have enough money, even the best-performing agencies in some cases got less money this year than they got last year,” Little said. “If I have regrets, it’s that we didn’t have enough money.”

Many agencies that received funding saw a significant decrease from the year before.

For example, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta saw its United Way funding drop 30 percent — from $327,262 to $229,083; Atlanta Urban League funding dropped 77 percent from $109,036 to $25,000; and Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta dipped 16 percent, from $1.98 million to $1.65 million.

Other agencies prospered under the new process. The funding for Caring Works nearly doubled — from $26,255 to $51,564; Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta’s funding increased by 56 percent — from $421,598 to $658,322; and funding for CHRIS Kids went from $67,371 to $215,593, an increase of 220 percent.

Little said the United Way board directed staff and volunteers to give all the agencies feedback on how they fared the way they did so they would have a better shot for funding next year.

Little summed it up this way: “It’s come down to an absolutely great process” that was implemented during a year “with a shrinking pool of dollars.”

Williams joins Woodruff

For Charisse Williams, becoming president of Young Audiences was a way for her to direct all her “passions” in one place — youth, education and the arts.

But for Young Audiences — one of the four divisions of the Woodruff Arts Center — the naming of Williams provides an opportunity to expand its offerings, increase its visibility and bring more diversity to the epicenter of Atlanta’s cultural community.

Williams is the first African-American to head a division of the Woodruff Arts Center, which also includes the High Museum of Art, the Alliance Theatre and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

“A huge goal of the Woodruff Arts Center is to bring more diversity to the arts and give kids more exposure to the arts,” Williams said. “They are the future patrons of the arts center.”

Since 2007, Williams has been the Atlanta director of the Posse Foundation, a national youth leadership development and college access program that was founded in New York in 1989.

She will begin her new post at Young Audiences on Aug. 22. “It feels like a wonderful continuation of the work I’ve already done in Atlanta,” Williams said.

Young Audiences, which has been part of the Woodruff Arts Center since 2005, has an annual budget of $1.7 million. It provides arts programming to about a half million children in metro Atlanta and around the state each year.

“We plan to double that over the next few years,” Williams said. “There’s a demand for more arts programming, and there’s a strong business model in place already. Despite the crisis we’re facing in arts education funding, I take my hat off to the parents and the PTAs that have been raising money to bring arts programming into their schools.”

The search for Williams was conducted by the BoardWalk search consulting firm. Virginia Hepner, a retired banker who has worked for a number of nonprofit organizations undergoing transitions in leadership, has served as Young Audiences’ interim president since last October.

Women’s Foundation invests

The Atlanta Women’s Foundation, which held its annual meeting at the Atlanta Girl’s School July 21, announced that it has invested $513,587 in 26 organizations during its 2011 fiscal year.

It is able to donate those dollars largely because of its major annual fundraiser —“Numbers Too Big To Ignore” luncheon. The foundation also announced that its 2011 luncheon will be held on Oct. 27, and the keynote speaker will be Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Co.

The two honorary co-chairs of the luncheon will be Juanita Baranco of Baranco Automotive Group and Frank Blake of The Home Depot Inc.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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