Schurkey Swanke, Grand Forks, column: Think twice before giving to the United WayMy suggestion to Herald readers: Pick a few charities that resonate with you, and support them directly rather than passing your donation through the United Way.
By: Schurkey Swanke,
By Schurkey Swanke
GRAND FORKS — I’d like to respond to the recent letter by and story about Pat Berger, president and CEO of the local United Way (“Making a difference,” Page E1, Oct. 10, and “United Way dollars given in GF stay in GF,” Page A4, Sept. 22).
United Way has three operational items that need to be acknowledged and reformed.
** Efficiency of operation. Berger states that 99 percent of contributions to the local United Way “remain in the community.” The expressed implication is this money stays to help the charities and good works that United Way supports.
The Herald reported that $962,000 was distributed to 35 organizations last year.
But in its Statement of Activities dated Dec. 31, 2009, United Way shows a “total revenue and other support” of $997,432 with only about $736,900 actually allocated to charitable works.
There is $273,447 used for “management and general” and “fund raising.” That $273,447 may have “stayed in the community,” but it stayed here as salaries, office expenses and fundraising expenses, not as direct aid to supported charities.
It would have been less deceptive for United Way to mention the 20-something percent skimmed “off the top” before the organization allocates the remainder to charitable work. But providing this additional information isn’t as appealing as promoting the “1 percent” angle and therefore leaving the public’s (incorrect) assumptions in place.
** Questionable ethics. Be aware that the “1 percent” money has in the past supported the United Way Worldwide’s management bureaucracy, which has been guilty of questionable ethics.
A few examples: In 1995, William Aramony — a 22-year president of United Way — was convicted on 25 counts including conspiracy to defraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, transportation of fraudulently acquired property, engaging in monetary transactions in unlawful activity and so on.
In 2003, the United Way reported a $1.5-million pension payment to its former chief executive, Betty Stanley Beene, when she departed after only four years on the job.
And right now, the current president of United Way Worldwide, Brian Gallagher, is getting more than a million dollars a year in compensation.
If today’s United Way Worldwide can afford a million bucks a year in wages and benefits for one person, it sure as heck doesn’t need any contribution that I can afford to provide.
** Unconscionable fundraising procedures. The unethical tactics used by some employers on behalf of United Way serve to break down their employees’ natural and healthy resistance to being milked like cattle.
The reaction to this psychological warfare (especially for the lowest-wage and most-vulnerable) is to contribute until it hurts, just to be safe.
Some employers sign up employees for the United Way campaign as they’re hired. But to a vulnerable employee, the significance is unmistakable: Contribute, or you don’t get the job.
An employee subject to this intimidation is likely to walk away with a United Way trinket.
What’s needed are government regulations that render illegal an employer’s abuse of authority in the coercion of employees for “voluntary” contributions.
All employer-sponsored charitable fundraising should be prohibited. Let’s separate employment from charity; let’s end the practice of “voluntary workplace contributions” that actually are made under deliberately induced duress.
The only genuine charity is genuinely voluntary charity.
My suggestion to Herald readers: Pick a few charities that resonate with you, and support them directly rather than passing your donation through the United Way.
Those specific charities then get 100 percent of your donation instead of receiving 75 percent to 80 percent of it.
But it’s not really my intention to tell others what to do. My intention is to remind people that the choice should be theirs to make, and that it should be made freely and without manipulation, intimidation or any other psychological stress that can create a hostile workplace environment.
Swanke is an automotive hobbyist and advocates in support of the rights of motorists, taxpayers and employees.