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United Way -- you broke your vow

The big name in donations breaks it off with a smaller social services agency.

August 04, 2007|George Nalbach | George Nalbach is the associate executive director of Santa Anita Family Service.

Dear United Way of Greater Los Angeles,

I received your call regarding our divorce last week. You let us know that after 39 years, you were calling it quits on my organization, the Santa Anita Family Service; that we didn't fit your new 10-year plan. We understand it wasn't just us -- you dropped dozens of charitable organizations you formerly funded. You were kind enough to let us know that you will give us 40% of our allocation to ease the pain this year. We will survive (your funding was only 3% of our budget). But you broke your promise.

Your current structure was set up in the 1960s so that instead of many organizations all hounding corporations and employees for donations, you would be the one-stop place in Los Angeles County for contributions to charitable nonprofits. You said you would fund agencies and monitor these organizations to ensure the delivery of services. So all the different Community Chests -- local donation hubs -- were dissolved and came under your umbrella. You broke your promise.

In February, you launched a wonderful but narrower agenda focused on combating poverty in three areas: meeting people's basic needs, improving their education and fostering their financial stability. Who could argue that these aren't important? But the 188 agencies that had been receiving aid from you, like us, now had to apply through a competitive funding process.

All along, I thought our organization was addressing the priorities you established. But apparently, we aren't as sexy as we used to be. We offer programs for family counseling, family preservation and support, parenting, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse prevention and intervention, domestic violence, anger management and seniors. What is it about our programs that doesn't cut it anymore?

Haven't you noticed the large number of people heading into senior status? Haven't you noticed that most of the agencies you kept have budgets of more than $5 million? Is there no room in the new plan for us smaller ones? Haven't you noticed that of the agencies you will fund, only three are in the San Gabriel Valley, the area we serve? Do you think there aren't poor people in this region?

The great contribution of United Way was the broad support supplied to nonprofits in providing a wide range of services throughout the region. You broke your promise.

You now refer to us old-timers as the "historical agencies," but once you told us that United Way was a base of support to help secure other funding and opportunities. Well, we listened and we grew the budget and services ten-fold, and we didn't ask you for more.

Remember when you asked us to go out and talk to companies for you, especially when both the national and local United Way made headlines in the 1990s with talk of officials' use of private jets and limos? You asked us to let donors know that reduced contributions only hurt the little guy. We willingly did that for you. You broke your promise.

We will be taking the United Way logo off our letterhead, but it's going to hurt. Divorce usually does. We're not sure what to do with all the awards you gave us. We're not sure what we'll tell the next person who needs help when all our spots are full. We used to say we are a United Way agency and we'll find a way to make it work. We're not sure now. Maybe we could start a support group for divorced partners. Sincerely,

Santa Anita Family Service

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