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United Way to Slash Donations

Nonprofits funded by the Ventura County organization will see their grants reduced by up to 41% after its fundraising falls short.

August 04, 2004|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

United Way of Ventura County experienced a nearly 18% drop in donations during its annual fundraising campaign and will cut grants to its member agencies by as much as 41% this year.

The Camarillo-based organization, which provides money to 48 member charities and 170 other nonprofits in the county, raised $4.2 million in its 2003-04 campaign, down $900,000 from a year earlier. The organization's goal was to again raise $5.1 million.

"We don't like difficult situations like this," David M. Smith, president and chief executive of the local United Way, said Tuesday. "We wish there were more funds to distribute, but this is what the community provided."

Smith blamed the shortfall on a continuing weak economy, a trend among corporations to create in-house charitable giving programs, less company participation last year and competition among an increased number of nonprofit groups.

He said there was lingering fallout from the organization's decision to deny funds to the Boy Scouts of America because of its policy excluding openly gay men and boys from membership. In 2001, United Way decided not to support any organization that discriminates based on sexual preference.

Two major donors sued the local United Way last September, in part, because of the Boy Scout controversy. Smith fears publicity surrounding a January trial may hurt next year's contributions.

He said United Way was reviewing its own $1.6-million operating budget to cut costs and make more money available for member agencies, which provide youth programs, homeless shelters, food programs for the needy and aid to the sick and elderly.

United Way expects to distribute $2.2 million this year. The remaining $400,000 is the amount of pledges that it expects to lose as donors experience financial setbacks or change their minds.

More cooperation with larger United Way groups serving Los Angeles and San Diego counties should help reduce costs. Smith said his agency would for the first time join Los Angeles in printing campaign literature and would seek other savings through joint purchase of stationery and office supplies.

Member agencies were notified Monday of the reduced allocations, which are proportionate to the amount each charity received last year. Top recipients include Interface Children Family Services, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme, and the American Red Cross. They saw funding reduced 36% to 41%.

"While it's a sad day for Interface, it's especially sad for United Way and the community who has to deal with services that are being reduced or eliminated in almost every direction," said Charles Watson, chief executive of Interface. The nonprofit provides youth development, counseling and therapy on domestic violence and child abuse, and coordinates Big Brothers Big Sisters in the area.

Interface's United Way funding was cut nearly $78,000 this year to less than $113,000. The charity plans to boost its own fundraising to avoid service cuts or the layoffs of up to four employees, he said.

Tim Blaylock, chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Club, said having his group's $112,000 grant cut this year by nearly $44,000 would affect his operation, but he hasn't determined what programs or services to reduce.

"It definitely hurts anytime you lose funding. You're already stretched as a nonprofit," he said, adding that charities must help United Way better communicate the tremendous local need for social services.

The next United Way fundraising campaign in Ventura County begins this month with a goal of collecting $4.6 million, Smith said.

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