The Los Angeles area United Way has adopted a major policy change designed to shift more power to minorities and diminish the influence of white male executives and old-line health charities in the federated fund-raising and social planning organization.
The new policy, adopted last week, commits United Way Inc., to active recruitment of human services agencies as new members and to nurture them, especially if they are run by Latinos, Asians and blacks. In some cases, new agencies would be created under United Way's aegis.
"A new membership policy in an organization like this touches every aspect of its life," said Terry W. McAdam, chairman of United Way's Task Force on Future Membership Policy and vice president in charge of program at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation in Century City.
The new policy adopted by United Way's 95-member board of directors also suggests that some United Way agencies should be defunded for "consistently" failing to perform, action that would free money to be allocated to more effective agencies.
Some United Way agencies are concerned that adding more members will divide the United Way financial pie into too many slices. Judy Lau, executive director of the Children's Bureau and chairman of United Way's Council of Executives of member agencies, said the council supports the policy but remains concerned that United Way examine whether existing agencies can do a better job of providing new services than new agencies can.
The policy provides that "a modest amount" of money designated for new participants can instead go to fund new programs by existing members. Task force discussions focused on setting aside 15% of the new admission total, expected to be about $660,000 next year, for existing agencies to create new programs, participants said.
Lau praised McAdam's task force for taking the time to let member agencies air their case, contrasting this with the hasty, and unsuccessful, attempt two years ago to establish a new policy on independent fund-raising by member agencies.
Implementing the new admissions policy will require increasing United Way's staff and new internal management procedures, task force members and United Way staffers say.
The measure of its ultimate success, they say, will be whether the policy prompts a broader spectrum of people in metropolitan Los Angeles to become United Way givers and volunteers who rise to positions of power.
The action by the United Way board of directors implicitly approved the Task Force on Future Membership Policy's report, "Toward a Constructive Long-Term Admissions Policy."
The report validates many of the strongest criticisms leveled at the local United Way by officials of charities not under its umbrella.
Prominent among these criticisms, the report states, is that minorities "feel they have been kept from substantial United Way membership, especially for agencies particularly important to and controlled by them."
Under the new policy volunteers and United Way staff are supposed to help prospective new members build community support, strengthen their boards by attracting influential volunteers and develop reliable financial and management plans. This involvement would continue after the new agencies joined United Way.
This approach of actively participating with new agencies and emphasizing quality of services contrasts sharply with United Way Inc.'s practice in admitting new agencies during the last five years.
Without any formal system of involvement after admission, United Way Inc. has added 78 new agencies since 1980, when admissions were resumed for the first time in years. Of these, 36 agencies were dominated by Asians, Latinos or blacks.
Currently United Way has 349 members. There are also 15 old-line health charities who are partners in United Way, with the American Red Cross also sharing in the federated fund-raising drive. The partners and the Red Cross have substantially more power in United Way than do the members. (There are an estimated 19,000 nonprofit organizations, excluding churches, in Los Angeles County.)
Under the old policy, getting into United Way, charities wanting to join had to brave a complicated admissions process.
The preliminary application form was three pages long and the formal application required 15 pages, while getting to the final stage of approval often required 200 pages of documentation, according to Cristina Castro, United Way associate director for allocations and agency relations. Of 1,977 agencies sent preliminary applications since 1980 only 73 agencies or 3.9% won admission. (The other five new agencies were admitted outside this process.)