The United Way of the Quad-Cities Area will spread out $3 million in community investment to 38 different organizations next year, but the decision to leave out several funded in previous years has caused confusion.

Organizations such as the CASI, the American Red Cross of the Quad-Cities Area, Friendly House, Boy Scouts of America, Girls Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois were left with little to no United Way funding, forcing them to scramble as the current fiscal year comes to a close.

“The impact is when you suddenly cut off funding with little warning,” said CASI Director of Finance Lee Gaston. “There is a going to be an impact on the services you are delivering.”

United Way's decision to change its funding strategy has been in the works for years. Its new approach was put in place after meeting with community partners to identify three target areas for making a difference in the community. 

"Agencies were part of the process of detailing our strategies in education, income and health," United Way of the Quad-Cities Area President Scott Crane said. "We presented them to agencies to provide feedback so they were part of the process throughout."

Last year, Crane said there was no funding review process knowing that the funding model was changing. 

When the new application categories were developed, staff members met with the agencies about where they might fit, not so much as an attempt to coach them, but to give understanding on the United Way's strategy. 

Crane said United Way made changes to its allocations with the desired effect of identifying issues that are most important in community and looking at "how we can move the needle."

"How do we know kids are ready for school and performing where they need to be?" Crane said as an example. "How do we know students are transition successfully and graduating and moving to the next step?"

The $3 million allocated for community investment comes out of the $8.3 million raised in its 2016 fundraising campaign. More than $1.2 million is allocated toward education and more than $900,000 earmarked for both health and financial stability.

The amount for community investment is determined after subtracting funds allocated for administrative and fundraising costs, United Way initiatives and distributions to other programs.

Agencies question funding decisions

CASI President and CEO Laura Kopp acknowledged agencies were told in advance of potential changes and involvement in the strategic process, but also mentioned that many of the goals were initially centered around youth.

But when the agency received the email on May 2 about the allocations, Kopp and CASI staff were in shock they lost all funding.

“It felt like it came out of the blue to be defunded,” Kopp said. “Twelve of us completely lost funding. The impression that was given to the media and the community was the organizations were the ones that were not performing.”

Kopp said CASI has around 13,000 active members for its activities, more then 1,300 in its growing senior advocacy programs and 100 through Jane's Place, which is Eastern Iowa's only day program for adults with Alzheimer's Disease and dementia.

With seniors being the fastest growing population, Kopp said there is a need.

Out of $53,000 CASI typically received from United Way, $30,000 went toward its advocacy programs that connects older adults with resources so they can remain independent in their homes as long as possible.

The remaining amount went to Jane's Place and with funding now gone, Kopp said, there will be a decline in the services CASI can offer.

Similar to CASI, Friendly House Executive Director Lorelei Pfautz said the last minute loss of $160,000 in funds will force the organization to make some tough choices soon, especially with staff comprising about 80 percent of its costs.

As a result, Pfautz said she's already planned to reduce staff, create furlough days and outsource maintenance while its board will discuss other contingencies Thursday.

“We are looking at serving less children and families, but we’re committed to trying to keep as much of that in place,” Pfautz said. “We are a safety net for families. Funding was spread out through the year, so we’re trying to see if we can get through the next six months without having to fully compromise.”

Pfautz also noted that missing from this year's evaluations were onsite visits. In the past, she said volunteer panels would look at programs in person.

Crane acknowledged that evaluations were based on proposals, but attributed the change to logistics.

"We had 80 applications this year, so it just wasn't feasible," Crane said. "It's also not advantageous to agencies whose functions are in an office-like environment, because that's not going to show you anything. The best way to be objective was to look at the proposals."

Decision not indictment of programs

The lack of funding was a blow to many agencies, but Kopp and Pfautz said Crane's comment, “We will do a few things very well rather than do a lot of things poorly,” gave the wrong impression of the programs.

“We don't do poorly,” Pfautz said. “The inference is we are not good enough. They are not inferior programs.”

Crane clarified his remarks by explaining why those programs weren't funded.

"In every one of the cases, they were recommended for funding," Crane said. "But you have to remember, we received 80 proposals of over $13 million."

While agencies such as CASI and Friendly House were recommended, United Way then had to cut down from $6.5 million to $3 million, which is where Crane said it looked at the top two or three proposals.

"Three million is a lot of money, but it is money that is targeted and focused on these strategies, not a reflection of those programs," Crane said. "If we simply tried to spread it out, we wouldn't have the same impact."

With little time to finalize budgets by July 1, Kopp said there will be a mad rush from organizations looking for the money they anticipated receiving to avoid cuts to programs.

“Now, there’s pool of agencies needing to find contingency,” Kopp said. “There's only so many philanthropic agencies we can tap into, and it’s not like we haven’t tried those resources.”

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